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Officer Daniel Webster Albuquerque Children's Park
Playground to Remember a Fallen Officer

Design Narrative by Aaron Zahm, PLA, ASLA, MRWM Landscape Architects


Phase one of Officer Daniel Webster Children's Park opened in May of 2017 in an underserved area of Albuquerque, New Mexico, in memory of the officer who was killed in the line of duty in October 2015. The park, designed by MRWM Landscape Architects, provides a holistic play environment that engages users in different ways depending on their abilities.

In 2017, the city of Albuquerque, New Mexico, opened Phase 1 of Officer Daniel Webster Albuquerque Children's Park, named after an APD officer who was tragically killed in the line of duty. It's the only public open space in a neighborhood that needed a common ground, a place for the entire community.

The park master plan is organized loosely around the map of the city, and features characteristics of different neighborhoods. The Phase 1 scope was a large central play area (inspired by the Interchange of I-25 and I-40, called the Big I) and a small plaza with a gridded turf area (inspired by the University of New Mexico and Nob Hill neighborhoods). Phase 1 also includes trees and walking paths through a large portion of the park. This will give trees an early start so that they are more mature by the time future phases are implemented.


Two concrete ramps provide an accessible path to reach the play structure. The surfacing of the play area is a mix of poured-in-place rubber surfacing and engineered wood fiber mulch. The rubber surfacing twists and turns, allowing easy access to the various climbers and slides. The wood mulch surfacing provides a more challenging, yet still accessible, route to the remainder of the structure.

Early in the project, MRWM compiled a team of occupational therapists, physical therapists and therapeutic recreation specialists to work through the specifics of the design. The primary goal of the park is to provide a holistic play environment, expanding on principles of universal design and nature play, to address physical, social, emotional and cognitive development. The basic notion behind holistic play environments is to create spaces that are engaging to every user in different ways, depending on everyone's unique abilities. The inclusion of play elements that are beyond the abilities of some users was desirable, since these areas often encourage users to learn from others or find their own strategies to overcome obstacles.

One of the most effective ways to achieve this goal was to include features that provide graduated challenges. This was implemented in both the arrangement of the play components as well as incorporating specific elements that could be used in different ways. The play area is also designed to allow users of various abilities to use the same features side-by-side. A main component of the design is the two concrete ramps that lead to the center of the elevated structure. This feature allows users with mobility limitations to be right in the middle of the action. The vertical walls of the ramps were cast with formliners to give them a variety of textures. A shallow channel cast into the top of the ramp walls acts as a track for rolling balls or toy cars. Two connected loops provide universal accessibility to the entire structure. A variety of climbers and slides connect the elevated platforms to the ground surface, posing various degrees of physical challenge.


The equipment includes sound features, translucent panels that cast colorful shadows, and movable components that provide visual and auditory stimulation. Smaller spaces under the bridges allow children to find a quiet nook, while wide open areas allow others to run free.

The play equipment is organized by color-coded "pods." The different pods are in the same color spectrum, which reduces a sense of confusion that blending too many colors may cause. Color also acts as a wayfinding tool, allowing children to rendezvous at specific locations.

A perimeter path encapsulates the play area, allowing easy access to the entire structure while doubling as a scooter path. Low seat walls create a sense of enclosure, spatially defining the play area without feeling oppressive. They also provide comfortable seating under shade trees, for parents or caregivers to keep an eye on children, while maintaining different degrees of comfortable distance.

Since the park opened in May 2017, it has become the primary location for the Super Kids Play Club. This is a joint program organized by the city of Albuquerque Parks and Recreation Department, the Therapeutic Recreation Program and Special Olympics. These events include structured and free play opportunities where children of all abilities play side-by-side.


The playground uses color to indicate the relative difficulty level of each area: blues and greens are easier to navigate, while reds and oranges are more challenging. Soaring shade sails cover the majority of the play equipment. These sails are high enough to block the summer sun, while still letting the lower winter sun reach the space.

Project Team:
Owner / Operator - City of Albuquerque, Project Manager Robert Ramirez
Landscape Architects - MRWM Landscape Architects, Principal Gregory Miller, Project Manager Aaron Zahm, Project Landscape Architect Judith Wong
Contractor - Lee Landscapes, Superintendent Jesus Trevizo
Play Equipment and Shade Sails - Landscape Structures Inc.
Play Equipment Representative - Exerplay Inc., Dan Gardiner

As seen in LASN magazine, December 2017, Playgrounds.

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December 11, 2019, 1:14 pm PDT

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