Palm Springs Downtown Park | RIOS

Winner of the 2023 WLA Awards – Honour Award in the Built Large Landscape Design category

Palm Springs Downtown Park is an inviting 1.5-acre urban oasis for residents and visitors of Palm Springs, a design-forward desert destination nestled along the base of the San Jacinto Mountains in California’s Sonoran Desert. Located in the ancestral homeland of the Agua Caliente band of the Cahuilla people and on the historic site of the famed Nellie Coffman’s sanitorium turned resort, The Desert Inn, the park was designed to amplify the spirit of place while combatting extreme heat, immerse visitors in the multisensory beauty of the desert, and celebrate Palm Springs’ legacy as a destination for health, nature, and pleasure seekers.

Drawing inspiration from regional flora and natural formations, the park features locally sourced stone and native desert plantings to provide ecological habitat, attract native pollinators, and showcase the biodiversity of the desert. Highlights of the park include an extensive palm grove with ample shaded areas and seating, two modestly scaled picnicking lawns, amphitheater seating for community events, shade structures inspired by palm fronds, and a grotto-like interactive water feature for play and cooling of ambient temperatures. Three overlapping spaces — the Palm Grove, the Outcrop, and the Theater — offer distinct programmatic capacities and further reveal facets of the region’s dynamic geology, vegetation, and rich history.

The Palm Grove houses over 130 Washingtonia filifera — California’s only native palm tree — in a densely populated arrangement akin to canopies in Palm Canyon on the nearby Agua Caliente Reservation. Tightly spaced palms of varying heights create shady eddies that provide respite from the heat of summer days while custom freestanding aluminum park furnishings that stay cool to the touch allow visitors to “follow the shade” throughout the day.

Along the park’s northern edge lies the Outcrop park, designed to relate to the surrounding mountains. With the colorful banded rock formations in Tahquitz Canyon as their muse, our team created a custom “sedimentary” finish for shotcrete vertical walls and modular seat blocks that form gathering spaces in the park. Meandering trails rise with a landform at the east as the Outcrop becomes the backdrop for the park’s centerpiece, a powerful cascade inspired by Tahquitz Canyon’s iconic waterfalls. The Outcrop obscures the adjacent parking garage and integrates park restrooms and a police substation into the geologic structure for a fully immersive experience.

Framed by a palm frond-inspired canopy, The Theater features an elevated stage overlooking an event lawn and amphitheater with a 1000+ seating capacity. The venue, with the Palm Springs Art Museum and the San Jacinto Mountains in the background, hosts an array of events, ranging from live performances to film nights, and honors the cultural heritage of Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley as a world-class destination for performing arts. From the days of singing cowboys to contemporary music, dance, and film festivals, the Theater epitomizes the role of the park as a responsive recreation destination for the diverse, growing community of Palm Springs.

Landscape Architect: RIOS
Collaborators: RIOS, City of Palm Springs, Fast-Track Construction, Fluidity Design Consultants, Shaw & Sons, QCP, MSA, PKA, MRC, Sweeney & Associates, Guidepost Solutions, MGAC
Image Credits: RIOS and Millicent Harvey

About Damian Holmes 3293 Articles
Damian Holmes is the Founder and Editor of World Landscape Architecture (WLA). He is a registered landscape architect (AILA) working in international design practice in Australia. Damian founded WLA in 2007 to provide a website for landscape architects written by landscape architects. Connect on Linkedin at https://www.linkedin.com/in/damianholmes/