Let’s say you’re part of a design and construction team that has settled on a stunning look for a high-profile exterior concrete project — the entry to a corporate office, a monument to fallen heroes or maybe a creatively upgraded pedestrian walkway for a downtown shopping district.
But you’ve got to deal with water issues. When it rains, all that moisture must go somewhere so visitors aren’t wading or skating their way across the hardscape. A key part of the solution is installing the proper drain system. And in cases where visuals carry high priority, that means a drain system that won’t detract from the design and might even contribute to it.
Following is a glance at projects where these kinds of water-handling systems were integrated into the design, providing a means to transfer stormwater while meeting pedestrian safety requirements — all while preserving or enhancing the visuals.
Iron Age Designs was called on to supply the right look for projects in two older urban settings, one in Etna, Pennsylvania, and the other in Boston, Massachusetts. Iron Age, based in Burien, Washington, specializes in cast-metal grates for trench drains and catch basins and around trees and other architectural elements.
In Etna, Buchart Horn Inc. designed a novel streetscape upgrade, fashioning a serpentine, river-like trench-drain system with decorative grates that connect to tree grates along the sidewalk. The drain system in this urban setting not only provides drainage for stormwater, but supplies fresh water to the trees — a real plus for vegetation enclosed by sidewalks and street pavement.
Dominique Watkins, partner and managing director for Iron Age Designs, says the design and decorative grates make a “bold aesthetic statement,” creating a unique streetscape feature “that makes an impression on people” visiting the town’s downtown business district.
The grates, cast with ductile iron in Iron Age’s Locust Leaf pattern, contain magnesium. This element gives the iron the ductile property, making the grates more resilient to wear and loads without breaking.
In Boston on Albany Street, Iron Age supplied oval tree grates made to complement surface pavers — one small facet of a significant redevelopment program in this city’s South End. Working with the architects of Ground Inc., Iron Age created 16 full or partial oval tree grates. “Each grate was oriented in a unique way to complement the overall streetscape pavers and concrete plan,” says Watkins. The openings for the trees were cast in different spots in the various grate elements, adding to the individuality of each grate.
“The idea behind all of our castings is to make each project unique and stand out,” Watkins says. “Drainage grates and tree grates are typically overlooked and most are very generic. Our aim as a company is to elevate grates to become more of a focal point, artistic feature or decorative detail that is the final touch on a well-finished project.”
Iron Age Designs was founded in 2005 by Mark Armstrong and Craig Diamond, who worked together at another foundry in the Pacific Northwest. They saw a potential market niche for American-made, artfully designed trench and catch basin grates that could be used with standard-size drain systems made by a number of other companies, including ACO Polymer Products Inc. The cast-metal grates — which are made out of ductile iron, regular “gray” iron, aluminum or two types of bronze — can be specified during a project’s planning phase or retro-fitted into existing installations.
The impression of seamlessness
In contrast with Iron Age Designs’ sculptural artistry in its cast-metal grates, ACO’s drain systems feature designs that tend to blend unobtrusively into contemporary architecture. Like the highly competent umpire in a high-stakes major-league baseball game, these drain-system components are seen as appropriate if they go essentially unnoticed, a testament to their seamless integration into the overall plan.
Following are three notable examples that illustrate seamless integrations:
Officer Sean Collier Memorial at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Collier was an MIT police officer killed in the line of duty during the pursuit of the Tsarnaev brothers, the notorious 2013 Boston Marathon bombers.
This striking, 190-ton sculpture is composed of 32 massive pieces of polished New Hampshire granite. The ACO Brickslot installation is in two sections — 33 meters along the eastern boundary of the memorial and a smaller section between two of the large granite pieces inside the sculpture. The drain components include ACO’s 4-inch-wide KS 100 polymer-concrete channel drain with a stainless-steel edge protection and slot.
Only the slot, 7/16 inch wide, is visible on the surface, minimizing the visual profile of this important functional element. Access units located at intervals along the slot allow for the channel’s periodic maintenance, which involves clearing debris that might block flow. Stormwater runoff enters the slot and runs down the subsurface channel into the stormwater collection system.
“With Brickslot, they are looking for something low profile but still capable of catching the water efficiently,” says Charlie Reber, ACO’s New England-area sales manager.
The Brickslot system is designed to allow surface pavers to be trimmed to fit tightly against the edge of the slot, yielding a surface appearance similar to a joint or seam.
American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial, Washington, D.C. This project, completed in 2014, features an ACO channel drain system covered by stainless-steel grates that are resistant to penetration by high-heeled shoes, as well as a Brickslot product that creates a unified, integral impression close to the memorial’s wall.
Center for Civil and Human Rights, Atlanta, Georgia. Installed in 2014, ACO’s 8-inch K200 drains are part of the downtown center’s hardscape in the Georgia Pacific Plaza. One runs at the bottom of a long run of steps and another is situated alongside the building.
Importance of material selection
Reber says ACO representatives discuss several key issues involving drain-system product choices with designers, specifiers and contractors:
- Type of use — pedestrian and/or vehicular
- Detailed guidance references for material selection based on exposure to various substances since resistance to chemicals and other substances can be crucial in many industrial and commercial sites. Stainless steel, galvanized steel and composite drain and grate materials provide strong chemical and acid resistance, with stainless offering superior performance with most corrosive or acidic agents. However, certain acids can be corrosive even for stainless steel.
- Vehicular load — Ductile iron grates offer superior flexibility (“give”) in high-load settings, Reber says. Weights are classified on a scale of Class A to Class F, with C being the most common weight classification specified for grates subject to vehicular traffic.
For stormwater-drain system grates in recreational settings, Balco Inc.’s material of choice is extruded aluminum or bronze. The Wichita, Kansas-based maker of an assortment of architectural products supplied the custom-fabricated architectural grating for the curvilinear drains at the Chester I. Lewis Reflection Square Park’s fountain plaza. The radius grating facilitates drainage and includes cutouts for fountain placement, a company spokesman says. The composition is extruded aluminum with welded-frame construction.
Another drain element from Balco — the PDG pool drain — was installed in a residential pool/recreation area. The aluminum drain system is supplied with a clear anodized finish to resist corrosion and is made with wider treads and narrower slots to protect bare feet while allowing drainage in the pool area. The integrated system includes drain channel and outlet and surface grates. The visual effect on the decorative surface is minimal and complementary to the pool surroundings, a company spokesman says.