The skinny streets of historic Philadephia on a tour during CNU in Philadelphia in 2007.

The wood paving block is a forgotten material in modern day design and construction. The material was foreign to me prior to a ‘Skinny Streets’ tour that I was on at the 2007 Congress for the New Urbanism conference in Philadelphia. The tour focused on the historic skinny streets between South Street and Market Street, as seen in the image on the right. This is another subject, but the elegance and space created with the tight cross-section is very fascinating.
Many of the streets are brick or cobble today, but there were a few streets where the wood paving blocks remains.  I recall from the tour that the wood paving blocks are required to remain and be replaced with new wood paving blocks to maintain the historic character of the street.

Wood paving blocks in the streets of Philadelphia.

Wooden blocks remain today in an industrial building from the early 20th century in Denver.

The wood paving block re-entered my life earlier this week as I was touring a historic industrial building in Denver with the Collaborative Design Group. Within this building, I was fascinated to the point where others must have felt that I was ‘geeking out’ to the presence of the wood paving block, image on the right. A colleague of mine with CDG noted the immense opportunities in the Rocky Mountain region of utilizing such a material. The reason for the great opportunity is the destruction of pine trees throughout the mountain region from the Pine Beetle. There is an immense amount of trees that have been and continue to be removed due to the beetle. Utilizing this material for paving blocks is a proper use today, with treatment to the wood to ensure that the beetles within are neutralized.
For more information on the Wood Paving Block, see the Light Imprint Handbook by DPZ.

Wood Paving Blocks in Philadelphia.