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

The Clearing: Sandy Hook Permanent Memorial

This project was designed to honor the 20 children and six educators who were slain on Dec 14, 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Designers Dan Affleck and Ben Waldo created a competition-winning design for a memorial space which is both open-ended and unifying in how it is experienced, honoring the full spectrum of emotions this tragedy evokes. They wanted...

Texas A&M Kyle Field Renovation

Completed in 2015, Kyle Field represents the most extensive redevelopment of a collegiate athletic facility ever. Inspired by the theme “The Home of the 12th Man,” this project embodies the belief that at Texas A&M, fans don’t just watch the game, they affect the game. SWA worked closely with Populous to create the best college football experie...

Lianjiang Park

Located between a mountain and river in rapidly growing Changsha, Lianjiang Park commands a critical juncture between city, nature, and a changing way of life. While the Lianjiang region had always been intimately linked to the water, recent urban development has resulted in a significant loss of wetlands, habitats, and the culture they give rise to.


Fort Wayne Riverfront

As a city that was built and thrived because of its location as a crossroads between wilderness and city, farm and market, the realities of infrastructure both natural and man-made are at the heart of Fort Wayne’s history. We consider waterways as an integral part of open spaces of the City, forming a series of infrastructural systems that affect the dynamics ...

Lin'an High Tech Park

Lin’an Qingshan Lake Forest Technology Park offers a premier destination for high-tech and green-tech businesses. Designed in harmony with nature, this mixed-use community will foster productivity and connections to its physical and cultural setting, providing a vibrant mix of uses and a business culture appealing to a wide range of international enterprises. ...

Dubai Expo 2020

From October 2021 to April 2022, the City of Dubai hosted the World Expo: a large-scale International Registered Exhibition that brings nations together with universal themes and immersive experiences. It comprises an entirely new city, built on a 1,083-acre site between Dubai and Abu Dhabi. The Expo site is organized around a central plaza linked to three mai...

Tianjin Culture Park

In the strategy for the upcoming integration of Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei Province, the city of Tianjin has been identified as an advanced national manufacture and research base, as well as a core area of international shipping, a financial innovation demonstration zone, and a pilot region for the overall reformation of the area. The location of the SWA-desig...

St. Louis Ballpark Village District Landscape Master Plan

Downtown St. Louis is currently undergoing an urban renaissance: seeking to enrich experience of place and to attract a growing population of urban residents, employeers, and tourists. SWA/Balsley was engaged for district-wide landscape services for a new urban redevelopment, Ball Park Village, located directly across the street from Busch Stadium, home of the...