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

Bayou Greenways

While Houston does have significant park spaces and trails, the city of no zoning has historically been unable to create enough designated open spaces and the necessary connectivity between them. The key to increasing the open space network lies within the region’s floodplains. Relatively flat terrain, intense rain events, and urbanized watersheds create broad...

Gubei Gold Street

SWA was selected to conceptualize, design, and realize a rare find in bustling Shanghai—a pedestrian mall (Gold Street). The corridor occupies three city blocks, is flanked by 20-story high-rise residential towers with retail at street level and book-ended by SWA-designed parks. Creating an iconic presence and enlivening the area, the mall features plazas, fou...

Pacific Plaza

The latest step in the renaissance of Downtown Dallas has arrived with Pacific Plaza, a 3.89-acre public park that serves the central business district’s burgeoning population and contributes substantially to the city’s outdoor experience. The first of an ambitious four-park initiative, Pacific Plaza complements adjacent urban greenspace with a varied program ...

Pellier Park

In the heart of downtown San Jose, the first of three new SWA-designed parks celebrates the plum tree and agricultural origins of Silicon Valley.  The site is a registered California Historic Landmark and the original nursery of Louis Pellier, known as “ The Prune King’ who introduced the French Prune to the Valley in 1856 and sparked the orchard boom in Calif...

Shekou Promenade

After China reached out to the rest of the world through its open-door policy, Shekou (part of the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone) became an important gateway for foreigners to discover the mainland. Its urban public realm, however, suffered from rapid urbanization and lacked attractive parks and facilities for the burgeoning population. With an increased awar...

Texas Rangers Ballpark

The landscape experience around this stadium features detailed plazas at all main entry points that celebrate the rich history of the Texas Rangers. Rangers Plaza is the main attraction, especially on game days, hosting a multitude of different programmatic functions that are associated with both the Texas Rangers and the surrounding Arlington community. The s...

Disney World Master Plan

Special issues in the computer-aided land analysis included depth to watertable, soils and organic mucks, and cypress groves. The analysis summary provided the basis for master planning a mixed-use community with extensive greenway conservation lands, resort development, entertainment facilities, a business park, and a residential community.

2018 Winter Olympics

SWA’s master plan for the three Nordic Events venues—the Ski Jumping, Cross Country Skiing, and Biathlon stadia and courses—honors the natural beauty of a spectacular Olympic Winter Games landscape as never before. The venues were originally slated to be located in separate valleys, requiring athletes and spectators to travel from site to site. But in PyeongCh...