Putting the “park” back into one of the world’s largest parks.


LocationIrvine, California, United States
ClientCity of Irvine
Size1,200 acres

One of the world’s largest municipal parks, the 1,200-acre Great Park in Irvine, California is now under development under a conceptual framework that encompasses redesign and implementation of near- and longer-term uses, with the intent to “put the park back into the park.” The vast site, which was once the Marine Corps’ El Toro Air Station, was first reimagined as public open space with a focus on sports and agriculture in the early 2000s, and included a farmers’ market, multiple sports fields, and a permanent aviation heritage exhibition, among other features. Building upon this early work, the new SWA and Kellenberg Studio framework provides overall planning principles and design direction.

Grounded in the California landscape and inspired by Central Park traditions, Great Park serves multiple uses, incorporating a major regional sports park as well as a cultural terrace of repurposed military hangars adapted into a museum mall and interactive discovery exhibit. Its features include a landscape wildlife corridor, riparian arroyos, and a California native tree palette carefully planned for species succession over time. The design establishes a premier 60-acre botanical garden, 40-acre forest reserve, and a research library that rivals any other in California, promotes active lifestyles via the incorporation of a major regional sports park, and celebrates the spirit of music with a new 10,000- to 12,000-seat amphitheater. It also honors the site’s Marine Corps history and veterans’ service through a memorial garden and aviation museum featuring more than 40 aircraft, with interactive elements. The redevelopment will consolidate and enhance existing uses while also addressing urban forestry needs in the warm, arid climate, providing ample shade for approximately 40 percent of the park’s entire acreage while maintaining a sparse understory to support security needs.

The design limits parking to the park’s perimeter, the entirety of which is navigable via a loop road. Within the park itself, a multimodal grand promenade will connect the five major zones, complete with tram stops, bike cabins, and important regional connections via a MetroLink stop on its southwest side. Envisioned as one of the United States’ signature urban parks, similar to NYC’s Central Park, the vast new public open space will provide equity in access and activity, and create a destination that can evolve over the decades — if not centuries — into what the residents of Irvine and Orange County desire in meeting their recreational, sports, and community gathering needs.

Related Projects

Heritage Field at Macombs Dam Park

Built in the footprint of the classic Yankee Stadium, Macombs Dam park ensemble consists of a variety of lush, contemporary green spaces in which the community can relax, socialize, and play. Heritage Field is perhaps the most highly anticipated piece of this South Bronx miracle, offering some of the city’s greatest places for running, sports, and athletic eve...

Elk Grove Civic Center

SWA’s design for this community resource improves upon part of a 56-acre master plan with a civic center campus set within a beautiful park, and an added public outdoor commons. The pedestrian-friendly commons weaves new buildings together with mature trees and an outdoor living space linking together a community center, an aquatics center, and a future librar...

Moji Mountain Park Master Plan

Moji Mountain, one of the most distinctive symbols of Yichang, now boasts the city’s largest public open space. The 120-hectare park is located along the banks of the Yangtze River, and has a rich historical connection to both the river and the city. De-forested in the past for agricultural uses, the mountain’s slopes have been replanted and now support a new ...

Nasu Highland

SWA collaborated with the architect to provide site planning, schematic landscape design and design development for this brand new membership clubhouse facility with an 18-hole golf course designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr., International. The development includes a major arrival entry with a stone podium surrounded by a fountain pool. The clubhouse is surrou...

Stanford University Terman Park

The removal of an existing building adjacent to the center of Stanford’s campus provided a unique opportunity to fashion an interim park space. The project emphasizes reuse and seeks to utilize salvaged materials as well as the existing grading and fountain as key features of the park. As a multifunctional performance and recreational space, the project ...

Nelson Mandela Park Master Plan

Identified by the City as one of its “Big Five” open space projects, the conceptual master plan for Nelson Mandela Park will create a much-needed central open space for the city’s south district, an industrial area along the waterfront that is home to a growing and increasingly diverse population. Here the city seeks to transcend its current park paradigm of l...

Panyu Central Park

Panyu Central Park breaks the boundary of the traditional gated community and promotes sharing of open space among residents and visitors. This neighborhood development is the hub for a dense urban community, raising its visibility and value and setting a high standard for open space in the area. The park provides welcoming activity space for all ages with its...

San Jacinto Plaza

SWA’s redesign of San Jacinto Plaza, a historic gathering place in El Paso’s downtown business district provides a state-of-the-art urban open space, while protecting and celebrating the history and culture of the site. The project was the result of an intensive community process involving input from a wide range of constituents. Active programming, environmen...