Supplement Feature - April 2010
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Back to Basics

Seven Guidelines to Creative Park Design

By Daniel P. Smith


At the Hitchcock office, Inman and his colleagues are sticklers for developing a strategy based on the fundamentals of adjacencies. Ball fields should be grouped together, and seating areas should be placed near a playground. In contrast, a skatepark or baseball court should not be placed next to a community garden or tot lot.

"The fundamentals of adjacencies hold that a park should be designed with compatible user groups in mind, thereby pairing amenities together that will attract like visitor types to create consistency," Inman said.

Inman and his colleagues often determine a helpful list of amenities for a given site, which can bring usability features as well as character to the park setting. From adding restrooms, water fountains and shaded seating to parking and landscaping, these complementary support elements help the park embrace a shape all its own.

"It starts as big-picture thinking and then funnels down to more specific thoughts," Inman said.

RDG's Platts and Crawford look to blend the new site into the existing community. At the Creekside Ballpark in Coralville, Iowa, the team tied the park's design to the town's agricultural history by using existing farmland and architecture as well as relocating some of the area's historic agricultural structures to the park for restoration and reuse. In other projects, the RDG team has matched its park shelters to the architectural detailing of the area's homes, a simple way to tie the park to the existing area.

"If the homes are stone or wood, then we're trying to complement that by using the same stone or wood," Platts said. "We want our design to look like something that's been present for decades, not something that was plopped down from some foreign place."

Platts is also a proponent of adding art, a medium which allows the community to express itself and provides park patrons insight into their neighbors and community.

"We're talking about art with a small 'a' here, but art that anchors the park to the community and provides a medium to tell the story of place," he said, adding that work from local artists can be displayed on a rotating basis to create a fresh experience.

At the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park project in Des Moines, Iowa, RDG integrated program and design elements that appealed to the social and cultural perspectives of park users. In this case, art is the central element. The art within the park invites visitors into the space and encourages them to stay. Located at the western gateway to downtown Des Moines, the park serves as a destination for visitors and area residents alike and sparks traffic at the adjacent businesses.