Silver Sands Park
Palm Desert, California
In 1990 I was asked by the city of Palm Desert, California, to design a park on six acres of land that was at the time unused. I believe that part of the purpose for city parks is to help us maintain a vital link to our natural world within the context of a metropolitan development.
With the Silver Sands Park project our goal was to use the architecture of the landscape to facilitate enjoyable recreation while presenting to the community some of the natural laws that define this desert environment and make all life possible.
The park site is triangular in shape, surrounded on two sides by housing developments and on the third side by a golf course. The south and west views from the site reveal a panorama of a range of mountains. I decided to use earth mounds to define the use areas of the park because I wanted to visually and acoustically buffer the visitor to the park from the noise of the street and the distractions of the surrounding development.
These earth berms allow the visitor to immediately enter into a relationship with the natural elements that comprise the park and serve to frame the vistas to the greater desert mountain ranges beyond. The berms embrace the visitor within the desert icons of mountain, stone, sand, palm groves, oasis, and sky. They define meandering pathways that draw the visitor through a sequence of interactive experiences of stark and barren, lush and thick, dry and wet desertscapes.
The plantings are of the vanishing desert's flora, displayed in ecologically correct biomes which clad the park's forms with greens and greys and demonstrate the evolution of plant life in a desert environment. Situated along these paths are small native palm oasis that provide the visitor with cool places to relax.
A Solar Calendar Irrigation System at the central oasis designates the heart of the park, and ties the park to the theme of the life-giving marriage of water, sunlight, earth, and air. The central pool is fed by canals extending from the east and the west, oriented to the rising and setting Sun of the Winter and Summer Solstices and the Fall and Spring Equinoxes. On the these important days, the corresponding source canals glow with the golden light of the Sun's rays. The canals of the north and south axis feed the central pool's overflow to terminal ponds that allow the water to seep into the earth, sustaining the surrounding plantings. The Solar Calendar Irrigation System is situated dead level with only a few inches of precious water filling the configuration. Water flows from the source canals at seasonally adjusted rates that take into account the rate of water evaporation and the irrigation needs of the vegetation fed by the terminal ponds. The central oasis sustains a grassed area shaded by native palm tree groves of Washingtonia filifera that cool the desert's environment for the park's visitors. The sand areas between the supply canals accentuate the preciousness of the water as a resource, and provide a play area where children can explore both sand and water.
I grew up in New Orleans where people depend upon levees to hold the water out of the city. I grew to love these earthen boundaries and the clear delineation they made between areas of my world. I would often lie at the bottom of the grassy slopes and look up them to the sky, with its dance of the clouds, Sun, Moon, and stars. It is the tranquillity and knowledge of this stage set that I wanted to bring to the park visitors with the Sky Crater.
The sky can be regarded as a vessel that carries to us the resources of oxygen and fresh water. I wanted to use the Sky Crater to emphasize this special relationship that we all too often take for granted.
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