Making parks more than 'just grass and trees'

Newport Beach hires landscape architect Peter Walker, whose firm will work on the new city Civic Center.

January 29, 2011|By Mike Reicher,
  • An artist rendering of Newport Civic Center and Park, which focuses on the wetlands area.
An artist rendering of Newport Civic Center and Park,…

Whether it's a sculpture of a rabbit or a statue of Ronald Reagan, he believes iconic features are placed in parks so people will remember them.

Because of its sheer size the Newport Beach Civic Center's 16-acre park won't be easy to forget.

But landscape architect Peter Walker, of Peter Walker Partners, wants to leave visitors with something else.

Walker, who will give a presentation at the Central Library on Tuesday, envisions marquee elements that will capture the attention of adults and children. His career of more than 50 years has been distinguished by awards for parks, sculpture gardens and building landscape designs.

"It's those features, often, that give a park more character than just grass and trees," he said.

Walker's firm designed a sculpture garden out of big rabbits — two 8-foot rabbits that would be forged in white concrete in the central park and near the library — and a ring of small rabbits near a meadow. He expects children to climb on the smaller rabbits.


"It's a kind of strange, artistic thing to do," he said. "We just thought the rabbits would be intriguing."

Newport residents are already intrigued by the land's natural value, Walker said, so the design emphasizes restored wetlands. It has a series of bridges, more than a mile of walking trails, and a belvedere to take in views.

He also hopes it will become known for its dog run and places for kids to play. Walker and his team toured nearby dog parks to glean ideas.

This isn't the Berkeley-based firm's first project in Newport-Mesa. It also designed the Town Center Park near the Segerstrom Center for the Arts.

Walker has collaborated with Renzo Piano, Norman Foster and other notable firms like Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, the architect firm of the Newport Beach Civic Center.

He has worked on the National September 11 Memorial in New York City and designed the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas, an outdoor "roofless" museum for a private collection.

In Newport, the city has formed a partnership with the Orange County Museum of Art to curate permanent and temporary sculptures throughout the Civic Center and park grounds.

Walker's firm has incorporated sculpture around the buildings and in the two main spaces, Central Park and the North Park on the north side of San Miguel Drive.

"It's supposed to ramble and be part of the landscape," said Councilman Steve Rosansky.

Rosansky is one of three members on the council building committee, which collaborates with the architects.

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