Pioneer Park | Mesa, Arizona | Dig Studio

Historic Pioneer Park is primed for a major infusion of capital funding. Currently a neglected, but critical public open space that borders the western edge of Mesa’s reinvigorated downtown, the re-design of Pioneer Park sets out to carefully blend history with originality and redefine how a play experience should look, feel and function. As the prime consultant and lead design firm for the $6 million dollar improvements project, Dig Studio was tasked by the City of Mesa to create a community space and play experience that is unique to the history of the site and to the surrounding community.

Scattered with historic features and monuments, the current design of Pioneer Park still resembles the historic 1954 design which features a large, well-used event lawn on the south half that connects to an axial walk that leads users north through sport courts, the current play area, ramadas and a historic train. However, the park’s identity today is not tied to any plan move; its presence is most simply made by the park’s large trees. The uniquely green respite within the Sonoran Desert is a result of network of legacy trees throughout the park that have been established and nurtured by a historic flood irrigation system. Dig Studio’s approach was to engage and celebrate these trees, using them to create unique experiences all while protecting them and their precious root zones.

More common to older cities around the country, trees this large in the desert are unique and have become integral to the identity of Pioneer Park. We wanted to let all users play in the trees. It is human nature to want to be in and around the comfort and wonder of trees. We asked ourselves, “how can we create an experience that allows users to experience the trees, yet maintain the existing grade, flood irrigation, and avoid compaction?”

We explored all the user groups and functions this system could have with the clear goal of making the park improvements multi-functional and multi-generational – increasing value, expanding human social interactions, and building community. Grandparents with kids can meander through play environments, couples can spend a date night in the trees, and visitors can explore educational opportunities detailing the history of the park and the new arbor weaving through the trees.

The design uses the trees as a form giver by identifying the need to push ground level circulation and program away from the root zone and trunks, but when elevated, those uses pull in and under the beautiful canopies. This process combined with creating a connection to and from new and existing program elements gave the design a strategic, yet authentic form for the park circulation systems.

Dig Studio has designed a new play experience within the legacy forest on the west side of the park. The adventurous exploration, interaction with nature, protected shade areas, and daring tree top heights all have an excitement and allure. The iconic and unique play experience in Pioneer Park captures these aspects of play, as well as honoring and engaging the existing ‘Legacy Trees’. Moving through the trees, climbing to a tree top perch, nesting within the canopy, and many more exciting elements will all be included in a play experience unlike any other in Arizona.

Thinking of the future, Dig Studio is adding a new forest to the east side of the park, creating an amazing environment for new and existing park functions. These dynamic parks spaces are all stitched together by an innovative adaptation of the historic central spine of the park, highlighted by a new central water plaza and iconic shade canopy.

Pioneer Park

Location | Downtown Mesa, Arizona
Design Firm | Dig Studio (Prime),
Sub-Consultants | Architect – Architekton, Civil Engineer – WoodPatel, Structural Engineer – BDA Design, Irrigation – Hines, Electrical Engineer – Wright, Contractor – Hayden Building Corp.
Images and Text | Dig Studio

About Damian Holmes 3308 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