Koret Children’s Quarter

Situated near the eastern end of Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, the Koret Children’s Quarter playground is a popular destination for city residents. It was built in 2007, replacing the former Sharon Quarters for Children, which was originally constructed in 1888 and believed to be the first public playground in the U.S.  The current play area includes a combination of natural elements, unique sculptures, and manufactured playground structures. One major attraction is an undulating concrete slide built into a hillside.

In 2017, the large play structure was destroyed by arson, but was replaced a year later.

Natural play elements:  sand, rocks, & vegetation
The main play structure includes a ramp connecting to a hillside path,
providing wheelchair accessibility.
The beloved concrete slide
Ocean-themed play sculptures
Lots of plantings surround the play area.
Play sculpture area for pre-school kids

Photos by Alice Webb

Project design by MIG

Olympic Sculpture Park

Situated on a former industrial site along Seattle’s waterfront, Olympic Sculpture Park consists of a series of dramatic angular surfaces that rise from the shoreline toward the urban center, bridging both a busy street and a railroad. A variety of sculptures accentuate the landscape, which ranges from open lawns to wooded slopes.

The park, which is part of the Seattle Art Museum, was completed in 2007.

“Wake”
“Eagle”
Eye benches and Father and Son fountain
“Echo”
Staircase entry from the waterfront area
There are also sloped walkways to the higher elevations of the park.
“Seattle Cloud Cover”
This piece is situated along a bridge over railroad tracks.

Photos by Alice Webb

Project design by Weiss/Manfredi

Playground at the Boston Nature Center

The “Nature Nook” is a delightful natural play space on the grounds of the Boston Nature Center & Wildlife Sanctuary, located in the Mattapan neighborhood of the city. In about eight years since the playground’s construction, the vegetation has grown nicely to form a cozy play space consisting of several “rooms” of activity areas. The playground includes all the important elements of nature-based play: water, sand/dirt, wood, plants, rocks, and hills. Additional features include a stage with seating, planters for gardening, music and art spaces, a building construction area, a gathering (seating) space, and a boardwalk.


Pergola with vines at the playground entrance


Water pump and stone stream bed, with adjacent sand play area


Children exploring the woods


Musical play, grass hill, and stage with seating


Building construction area, including a permanent wooden frame that children can lean sticks against to form forts and other structures


Boardwalk through the woods


Climbing log


Bridge over the stream bed; near the sand play, dirt play, gardening, and art areas

Photos by Alice Webb
Project Design by StudioMLA Architects, Brookline, MA

Chihuly Garden and Glass

Some may argue that Dale Chihuly’s glass sculptures have become too mass-produced, with many similar-looking pieces displayed around the world. However, each of his garden installations has a unique quality, due to the ways in which the glass pieces are integrated with the landscape. One of the best examples is the outdoor component of the Chihuly Garden and Glass museum in Seattle, since this garden was designed for both sculpture and plantings, effectively combining and balancing the two.










Photos by Alice Webb

Freeway Park, Seattle

I had the opportunity to visit Jim Ellis Freeway Park in downtown Seattle last June – an iconic public space designed by landscape architects Lawrence Halprin & Angela Danadjieva. It was the first park built over a freeway, and was conceived as a means of re-connecting neighborhoods that were severed from the downtown when Interstate 5 was built. The original section of the park was opened on July 4, 1976 – the nation’s bicentennial.

The park’s structures were designed in the brutalist style that was in vogue at the time, including board-formed concrete walls, planters, and fountain elements. Also, Halprin envisioned the character of this space as “freeway vernacular” (hence the emphasis on concrete), while representing the region’s mountain ranges with the various heights and shapes of the fountain structures. Waterfalls were a large part of the fountains during the early years of the park, and effectively masked the noise from vehicular traffic on the freeway below. However, due to maintenance and safety concerns, some of the fountains were shut off in more recent years. When I visited, no water was running, and I don’t know whether the fountains are turned on at all during the summer.

Plantings throughout the park were also designed to help mask freeway noise and to reduce vehicular pollution. The plant communities represent those typically found in the natural areas of the nearby mountains, and include many mature trees and broadleaf evergreen shrubs.

Urban parks built in this style in the decades following World War II have often suffered from neglect in recent years, but this space seems to be relatively well-maintained and appreciated, at least for now. I hope the interest and support for Freeway Park will persist into the future.


Main fountain structure in Freeway Park


Typical zig-zag walkway with seating


One of several park entrances


Smaller fountain structure next to one of the park’s plazas


Typical seating design


Main fountain structure, sans water

Photos by Alice Webb

An Urban Dog Park



I’m back from a blogging hiatus, and I’ve got a few sites to post about that I visited during a trip to Seattle earlier this year. The first is a unique little dog park on 6th Avenue, on Amazon’s campus but open to the public, tucked between a tall building and the company’s new “Spheres” near the downtown.

Most leash-free sites that come to mind are the suburban variety with large fenced lawns – although this one is small, it’s a valuable amenity for those urban-dwelling canines who don’t have their own yards to roam. Dogs who live in the city are probably used to smaller, cramped quarters anyway, so they don’t need a lot of space to run around and socialize off-leash.

This little dog park is the best-looking one I’ve ever seen – although the dogs don’t care, their humans probably appreciate the pleasant features of this space. Instead of being separated from the street and other areas with fencing, the designers took advantage of the grade change of the site and included a retaining wall which works very well as a barrier. This wall is an attractive metal gabion which includes a carefully-placed line of aqua-colored glass stones along the center.

The park also contains a little patch of lawn (artificial, I’m assuming); rocks (for peeing?); a dog-height drinking fountain; and a multi-level platform (perhaps so the pups can play “king of the hill”). And, of course, there’s the requisite doggy poop bag station. The whole park looks like it’s regularly washed down to keep things clean.

I rate this space as a win-win for both the dogs and their people.
 
Photo by Alice Webb

Post Office Square, Boston

In Boston’s financial district, a lovely 1.7-acre park is nestled between the office buildings, giving workers and others a pleasant respite for enjoying lunch and relaxation. Post Office Square, also known as Norman B. Leventhal Park, features numerous trees and other plantings, an open lawn, a pergola along one boundary, fountains, and a café. This space is privately-owned and maintained, but open to the public. It was completed in 1992 on a site that was formerly occupied by an above-ground garage. Parking is now located below the property.
 
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A central lawn, pergola with benches, and other seating areas provide plenty of opportunities for relaxation.
 
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Fountain near the north end of the park
 
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Seating wall along the west side of the space
 
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Café with outdoor seating at the south end
 
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The park is flanked by several attractive art deco buildings.
 
Photos by Alice Webb