Students in the Landscape Architecture Department had the relatively simple task to program a wooden boardwalk that would connect three trails at McVey Memorial Forest in Randolph County, but the project delivery challenges made the structural solution slightly more difficult.

Students and faculty explored options for this community design project in partnership with Red-tail Land Conservancy, the Delaware County Soil and Water Conservation District, and Madjax Makerspace.  In the process, students grappled with questions like:

  • How do can we work in 1.5 hour chunks on a project that is 30 minutes away and maximize production time?
  • How do we design for a site that is deep in a nature preserve with limited vehicular access?
  • How do we work with already limited time constraints yet adapt to the spring rains… and snow?
  • How can we work on multi-year project in a remote outdoor public space and ensure public safety and welfare risks when projects are on hold or in-between semesters?

How do we create highly irregular boardwalk structures with standard deck and framing solutions as guidance?
After some iterative thinking and some good ole fashioned “trial and error” a solution emerged: build the boardwalk in modular components, in a controlled environment near campus (Madjax), with a mindset towards disassembly and flexible onsite tolerances.

Built around a hexagon lattice network, the boardwalk project utilizes modular, structural joist/beam units that fit together like a puzzle, and are right-sized for two person manual hauling or with small off road vehicles like a Polaris or Suzuki mini-work trucks.
With a design adaptable to field conditions, the modular units serve as substructure for the curvilinear form, giving the project it purpose as connective tissue for the three trails.

In one semester (spring 2021) the students completed the substructure and decking , and even began Phase II which includes surfacing, benches, and detailing that will be completed in subsequent semesters. Phase II of the project is being constructed with Indiana Hardwood that has been thermally modified by EcoVantage.

The modularity and innovative production approach positions the community partnership to mass produce many such boardwalks throughout East Central Indiana at various scales and configurations.

By Colby Gray
Assistant Teaching Professor in Landscape Architecture