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Reaching for the Stars: Cremin Playground, Somerville, Massachusetts
Landscape Architecture by CBA Landscape Architects
Photos: Anthony Crisafulli Photography (Except Where Noted)


In Somerville, Mass., CBA Landscape Architects renovated a small park under a pedestrian bridge for a major highway. At the Cremin Playground's main entrance, a refurbished and rededicated archway welcomes visitors in. The archway from the prior park already featured a star motif and had constellations of holes in its panels. CBA's team painted the interior gloss white and fitted it with signage lighting that shines out through those perforations, adding a twinkle to the entryway.

At the re-envisioned Cremin Playground in Somerville, Mass., CBA Landscape Architects LLC has transformed this compact space from an uninviting "trouble spot" to a neighborhood source of pride. Renamed in honor of a young woman who loved children and life, and who was a friend and inspiration to many, Cremin Playground was designed to provide a safe place for youth to play, relax, perform, and to let their own stars shine.

The playground offers customized lighted play structures; ample seating; low curving walls; permeable paving; a splashpad; extensive plantings; and artistic and musical elements throughout. The new park embraces its unusual site to create a unique space.



(BEFORE) - Before renovation, as seen here, the grade rose up under the bridge, disconnecting the two sides, and the half of the park encircled by the ramp was an uninviting, underutilized space. By lowering the grade under the ramp, CBA strengthened the connection between the two sides. This created space for seating (by DuMor), outdoor musical instruments (by Freenotes Harmony Park), a splashpad, and a custom musical fence, along with curving seatwalls lit by "IQ67 Super Flex" rope lighting (Q-Tran Inc.) to draw visitors through the park.
Photos: CBA Landscape Architects LLC

Originally known as Otis Street Playground, the park is adjacent to a major local highway and is the landing spot for a pedestrian bridge that crosses the highway. The park originally sloped up toward its center, and the low headroom under the ramp leading to the bridge had essentially divided the site in two before the renovations. By lowering the grade underneath the ramp by nearly two feet, CBA's design unified the site, opening sight lines and creating a comfortable clearance to visually and programmatically reconnect the two sides. The park embraced the ramp's presence with colorful murals by a local artist. Waves of color on the sides of the ramp and on the abutments, all complemented by uplighting, turn the ramp into an art element for the park, rather than an eyesore.

Lighting was an important facet of the park design and was incorporated throughout. Uplights (BK Lighting) enhance the murals on the buildings and bridge. The low seatwalls include ribbons of 3000K LED rope light that accent the curves and light the pavement. Light columns (Forms + Surfaces) at bollard and pedestrian heights are distributed throughout the space. Custom elements in the roof of the play structure allowed mounting of additional Q-Tran "IQ67" rope lights. Lastly, the ornamental entry arch from the prior park design was repainted, relocated and rededicated to the playground's new name. It was also enhanced with interior lighting that twinkles through perforations in the side panels. Taken in total, the lighting is at a consistent nonobtrusive level, providing visibility and security while remaining appropriate to the neighborhood setting.


The areas of the park not suited for circulation were extensively planted with a mix of perennials and ornamental grasses. Nearly all of the site's mature trees were protected and a new, fast-growing river birch tree was added to replace the one existing tree that was removed in order to lower the grade.
Rendering: CBA Landscape Architects LLC

The site's low curving, cast-in-place concrete seatwalls supplement the site furniture and guide circulation through the park. The walls were designed to precisely accommodate the rope lighting, following the grade in a complex curve that made it an ideal fit for the flexible linear LEDs. An interrupted chamfer edge detail at the tops of the walls brings aesthetic interest, while functioning as a skateboard deterrent. To preserve the roots of the site's mature trees, "footing-less" sections contain extra reinforcement to allow them to "float" over the subgrade and avoid disturbing key roots.

CBA Landscape Architects worked with the engineers at Landscape Structures, Inc. to design a play structure for ages 5-12 that connected a NetPlex tower to a PlayBooster post-and-platform structure with a custom net climber, and with a pair of custom roofs that echoed the park's waves and incorporate linear lighting. For the younger set, a SmartPlay Motion structure was selected. The park's "Spia" swing lets multiple kids, or caregivers with small children, enjoy swinging together.


Viewed from the ramp above, the playground is organized into distinct zones. The play area at the rear has play structures by Landscape Structures. The picnic area at the back right and the gathering nook in the foreground both have custom blue site furniture. In the center, a custom musical fence designed by CBA and fabricated by Custom Fabrication, Inc., plays "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star."

One key goal shared by the city and CBA was to minimize the park's environmental impact. The splashpad was designed with a standalone bollard to activate the water, and a selection of the lowest-flow spray heads from the manufacturer to keep the total flow rate below a target of 20 GPM while providing a variety of play experiences. With the site now sloping in toward the park's center, stormwater and splashpad drainage was an issue. The solution was to use a 90% recycled material, pervious ceramic paver throughout the park, allowing stormwater and the splashpad's runoff to infiltrate directly into the ground rather than be directed to the city's storm drainage system. Unlike traditional "permeable pavers," water isn't limited to the joint spaces; it moves through the paver itself. Together with the rubber surface and the planting beds, the pervious pavers create a site with no impermeable surfaces other than the ramp itself! The park was planted with a mix of perennials and ornamental grasses.


The park glows softly at night for security and use. Light columns in two different heights (Forms + Surfaces) mark key points. Uplighting (HP2 by B-K Lighting) accents the adjacent building walls surrounding the play structures. Rope lights were fitted into the roofs of the play structures.

Salvaged and new stainless steel stars decorate both the refurbished entrance archway and an adjacent wall, where they float above the waves of color in and around panels with whimsical murals by local artist Joe Barillaro. Barillaro also painted murals on the ramp's abutments, including one that marks a new second entrance to the park from the end of the ramp and faces the highway. The colors in the murals were selected to complement the overall palette of the park, which was carefully curated to match elements throughout the park and provide a consistent "look and feel."


A new secondary entry, at the end of the pedestrian ramp over the highway, opens the park up to the neighborhood with a welcoming mural by artist Joe Barillaro. New whimsical murals on the bridge abutments were designed to complement the park's colors and themes.

The park's emphasis on the arts continues with custom outdoor chalkboards for kids to create their own art, and outdoor musical instruments from Freenotes Harmony Park. One particularly unique addition is the custom "musical fence," designed by CBA in collaboration with the fabricator. This element helps separate a gathering nook from the main walkway. Walking from one end to the other, park visitors can strike the chimes with the built-in mallet that rides on a custom rail to play - in a reference to the site's motif of stars and lighting - "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star." (The melody is additionally appropriate to a children's playground because it's shared by other classic children's songs - the "Alphabet Song" and "Baa Baa Black Sheep.")


The strong diagonal connection through the park is reinforced by the colored waves of pervious pavers and the curving concrete seatwalls lit by linear LED lights.

Throughout the design process, CBA's team kept an open dialogue with the community, from presentations at public meetings to online surveys that helped determine the elements to include and prioritize. The success of the park in addressing the neighbors' concerns based on the site's history, and responding to the community's ideas for what the park could be, is evident in the excited welcome the new playground has received. The former disjointed, divided space with troublesome nooks and crannies has been transformed into a unified, softly glowing, welcoming space that flows, connects, and inspires creativity and play.


Visible from the main entrance, custom musical elements, the SmartPlay Motion structure and custom PlayBooster / NetPlex structure invite children up to play.

Project Team & Credits Landscape Architects: CBA Landscape Architects LLC Principal-in-Charge / Project Manager: D.J. Chagnon, ASLA CPSI Project Staff: Aaron Kraemer and Jessica Choi Client: City of Somerville, Office of Strategic Planning & Community Development - Joe Curtatone, Mayor; Arn Franzen, Director of Parks & Open Space Muralist: Joe Barillaro, Somerville, Mass. Photography: Anthony Crisafulli Photography, Boston (except as noted) General Contractor: NELM Corp., Rockland, Mass. Electrical Contractor: Mass Bay Electrical Corp., East Boston, Mass. Ornamental Metalwork: WovenSteel Distinctive Iron Works, East Boston, Mass. Musical Fence Fabrication: Custom Fabrication, Inc., Harpursville, N.Y.

As seen in LASN magazine, April 2017.

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October 20, 2019, 5:56 pm PDT

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