Railroad ties: their reuse in contemporary garden

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21 September 2016

Considerations on material reuse, and regarding its renewed expressive potential in different settings fromtheir original one. Our case of study is on railroad ties.

Since disposals of end product of industrial production have become expensive from an economical andenvironmental standpoint due to their quantities and costs , the problem of reuse has become an important part of the organizational perspective for the public administration, private sector, and last but not least, for designers. Thisperspective offers in fact several creative sparks. It’s sufficient to think how many uses pallets have, and the factthat now they can be found in very diverse contexts.

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Finished installation of railroad ties

In our design of the garden in Radda in Chianti, the reuse pertained the reclaimed railroad ties. Railroad ties,after having undergone a lengthy process of cleaning and removal of their surface layers, can besold and they find more and more uses, even in landscaping. Surface finishing of railroad ties, which isn’t perfectly smooth, makes them perfectly fit for use in a country environment. We think that the evocative feeling that railroad ties possess is also noteworthy. Small “signs” as the shadows cast by the holes where old bolts where, areall that is needed to project your mind “elsewhere”. In our Radda in Chianti design, railroad ties where used in two different parts of the estate. Both of them tied with the topic of travel, of moving, also meant as metaphor ofmovement between different parts of the garden.

A footpath made with reused railroad ties

In this case railroad ties found a place in the footpath that joined the entrance of the estate, to its rear, which isdedicated to the private life of the owners. This creation has been imagined as a connection by foot and railroad tieshave been laid down side by side.

Trough this design, we have maintained their natural arrangement, as anyone can clearly recall when sees them.But instead of a ballast, complementary of the railroad stereotype, the ties lay this time in a green lawn.

The cyclic nature of the wooden parts, which stimulates the movement are counterpoised to grass, relaxing by its nature. On the side of the path, facing the building, a small mulberry row has been planted (Morus platanifolia‘Fruitless’). Bushes and perennials instead model a nice mixed border on the side that faces the valley.
This sequence between wooden parts, and lawn strips, forming a succession between compact and empty, the development of the path in not-straight way, forming instead a double arching, is able to create fluency and softness in the shapes, stimulating the movements and giving a scenic, suggestive, and evocative effect to the garden.

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The installation of railroad ties
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Finished installation of railroad ties

Stairways built using railroad ties

In some spots in the garden there was a need to create a connection between places of different height. So two stairways have been built becoming the second example of use for railroad ties in out project. Both those creation answer to the need of a connection, both physical and metaphorical between the “built” garden, the one with the most defined design, close to the building, and the agricultural environment of the estate. In both cases, railroad ties, conveniently trimmed as needed, have been used as rung’s rise and have been secured to the groundwith a ingenious anchoring system which remains completely hidden.

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The straight stairway along the cliff.

The construction

A stairway ties the garden adjacent to the house with the agricultural land that lies at the bottom of the cliff. In thisconfiguration we realized a stairway with a straight path, where the railroad ties create small steps which follow thenatural slope of the cliff. From here the view reaches the olive groves, and the fields below, and towards the vale, tothe hills, allowing the view of a wonderful scenery. From this point, the descent leads slowly towards the agriculturalland. Since the area is open and unobstructed by obstacles that could block the view, it’s possible to enjoy thelandscape, and to relish on its beauty at every step taken.

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The curvilinear stairway

The other connection is close the entrance to the estate, and literally twists and turns between a double row of cypresses bordering on the avenue. In this case we used the natural shape of the place , with its own slopes, height differences, and the interruption of the vision line due the presence of the cypresses, to create a succession of glimpses, that change little by little as the stairs go down , till the end of the stairway when the opened visual reaches the fields. The care for details, and the choice of plants which enhance the sinuosity, with the nocturnal effect given by a careful placement of lights, creates a enjoyable corner even in a spot that would otherwise result marginal.


But as everybody says: “God is in the detail!

Final thoughts on the use of railroad ties

Railroad ties are an example of a technological component built with a natural material. Their characteristics lend themselves perfectly to be reused as building component for many furniture and structures.

This is a source to draw ideas for us, designers, to design contemporary gardens and parks with a markedevocative appearance.

More details about this project are available on our website.