Walkways are primarily functional—they guide us from point A to point B through a straightforward, level surface. They transform space, making it more purposeful and making those who walk the path confident of their direction. When a space is thought out intentionally, guests feel more welcomed into that space, even through a detail as seemingly insignificant as a walkway.
Not only is their function crucial, but they have an aesthetic purpose as well. As with any design, the elements reflect the architecture of the home and the nature that already exists in order to create a cohesive space. The functionality of a walkway affects its aesthetic and the aesthetic of a walkway affects its function. Functionality and beauty need to be carefully harmonized with one another in order to do justice to both.
An outdoor space without a walkway looks unwelcoming or incomplete because of its lack of function. It’s like having a home without a single hallway; you would have to get from place to place by going though other rooms. The same is true of a walkway without a true destination. It could be built out of the most beautiful and expensive materials, but without a destination, they become wasted materials. Beautiful places are beautiful partly because they function properly.
This is also true when beauty stands alone without the company of function. Function cannot exist on its own apart from beauty—when it does, you get a functional space that no one wants to be in or around. Most town libraries are purely functional and few people find enjoyment in that space. A walkway made of black asphalt in your outdoor space will serve its purpose but will be an eyesore. When something is an eyesore in a living space, it no longer functions properly. Functional spaces function best specifically because they are beautiful.
Walkways built out of irregular bluestone, spaced like stepping-stones going down a hill and around the corner with soft green moss growing in the joints give you the feeling of being in the country or the woods. The stones appear as if they were slowly revealed from below the earth through a heavily traveled path. When you walk along this pathway you feel like your journey can slow down and trail off to unexpected adventures. It is both natural and spontaneous, allowing you to choose the pace and destination of your journey.
This rectangular bluestone walkway with an 6"-8" spacing, with grass or mulch filled between the stones gives you a combined feeling of formality and leisure. There is still an elegance with the added feeling of breaks and slowness with the spacing of the stones. Also, because the stones are placed horizontally rather than vertically, the feeling of slowing down is influenced further. The lengths of the stones push you from left to right rather than forward, which would be the case if the stones were placed vertically.
A walkway with two rows of square bluestone stepping-stones evenly spaced is another circumstance where formality is softened by plant material and spacing of stones. The creeping thyme will eventually cover the spacing in between the stones entirely and you are left with a formal, evenly spaced walkway that is not sterile or rush you to your destination. The squares side-by-side add a horizontality to the walkway—it embraces formality and elegance but is slower and less directional.
Besides stepping stones, there are also pathways built from pattern with joints filled as in a patio. When we start looking at these types of pathways, we also encounter more uses of form to effect the feeling.
The curve in a random square pathway helps to slow down the experience. It gives you time to look around and enjoy your surroundings or to chat with a friend as you arrive home and walk around the property.
Square pattern can also be built in a very straight or direct format. This is an example of 2x3’s laid in a long straight line and joints filled with polymeric sand. These aren’t quite considered stepping stones for this reason. They are a great example of how fast and formal straight lines feel and with the right planting and other design elements, it can be a very elegant entrance to a party.
Flares are a perfect example of the merging function and aesthetic. They flow naturally with corners that walkers may tend to cut naturally and in flaring out they help the walkway to fit more beautifully into existing elements (e.g. curved edges of driveways).
Straight random square walkways often use turns, courtyards or details to embrace formality but give walkers a more engaging and meditative experience.
When you keep function and beauty in mind when designing a walkway, you are confronted with many different design options—all of which serve a different purpose functionally and aesthetically. Material, shape, size, spacing, color and planting all come together to communicate something different to the walker of a path.