Header photo courtesy of Shadley Associates
Labyrinths are complex mazes or paths that have been used around the world for centuries. Many churches and early civilizations employed their design for various symbolic reasons, including one of the world’s most famous at Chartres Cathedral in France.
Recently, Shadley Associates Landscape Architects and Northern Design teamed up to build a labyrinth on a farm in rural Kentucky using precast concrete materials. The two companies have worked together many times so the precaster was brought on early.
The farm itself is more than 850 acres with a native forest and sustainable agriculture areas, but approximately 100 acres of the land is designed as private garden. Scenery in the garden includes large viewsheds, perennial gardens, a large pond with waterfalls and arbors. However, the owner of the property wanted a quiet space for contemplation and meditation.
Following the design work by Shadley Associates, Northern Design began molding and casting the layers of the labyrinth with an added pigment to create a light limestone tone. There was very little repetition; each layer of the labyrinth required its own mold and daily adjustments were needed to satisfy the varying lengths, blockouts and fake joint reveals. Ensuring the long, thin pieces would arrive to the site without chipping or cracking proved to be a challenge, but Northern Design was able to handle and package all the pieces for successful delivery.
“We plotted full-scale templates and built the molds with styro and wood,” said Jesse Thompson of Northern Design. “The blockouts were a challenge since the pieces were poured upside down. The styro had to be secured within the mold in order to hold dimension on the 6-inch-by-six-inch leg posts.”
The project evolved throughout the design process, including a design change to the precast itself.
“The original concept was for the lawn to be level with the top surface of the precast” said JP Shadley of Shadley Associates. “Once the precast pieces had all been set, the client loved the way that the raised pieces on their pedestals looked, and the way that being raised made the labyrinth more maze-like.”
The vertical faces had not received an etched finish prior to delivery, since only the tops were originally planned to be exposed. Northern Design traveled to the site to finish the pieces in order to create a uniform appearance on all precast faces that were now exposed.
“The finishing process tied everything together and created an attractive, uniform precast assembly that we’re very proud to have supplied,” Thompson said. “It’s very unusual and it was really appealing and exciting for Northern Design from the get go.”
Thanks to the flexibility of the landscape architect and precaster, and the ease of installing and creating precast concrete products, the project was able to evolve over time without any delays and is now ready for the owner to use for its intended purpose.