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Santa Monica Airport Park for the Two-Legged, and the Four-Legged Too

Interview by Leslie McGuire, managing editor






The dog park was designed as a series of three terraces, each of which drains back into the slope, thereby capturing 100 percent of the water. A French drain system includes a network of filters that prevent any overflow or runoff from entering the city storm drain.
Images by K. Naverson


Designed by ah’be landscape architects of Culver City, California, the much-lauded new Santa Monica Airport Park has won several awards, including the ASLA Southern California Chapter's Merit Award. The park helps to address Santa Monica’s long-term need for more open and green space in an environmentally conscious way, incorporating sustainable features for planting, irrigation, and site and sports lighting as well as storm-water management techniques.

The site's history and location impacted the park's design at the conceptual level, according to Calvin Abe, FASLA, principal, ah'be landscape architects. Situated on the south side of the Santa Monica Airport in a mixed-use industrial zone at the city's eastern boundary, the site was most recently used as a shuttle parking lot for Santa Monica Community College and as a storage area for a local car dealership.






The project is a large-scale conversion of an area that has great historical significance in the aviation industry: Santa Monica Airport was home to many landmark events, including in 1924, the first circumnavigation of the world by airplane, as well as the founding of Douglas Aircraft Corporation, which manufactured the DC-3.
Photos courtesy of ah be landscape architects


Post-Industrial Requirements

"Los Angeles is a post-industrial city, Abe says , "and landscape architects have a unique opportunity to bring a semblance of nature back to the city. There are definitely challenges, but the global timing is perfect for open space additions. City councils are always looking out for their communities."






While there are existing dog parks in Santa Monica and the surrounding communities such as Venice, the park at Airport Park is a far cry from the vacant parcels of land covered with gravel or mulch and surrounded by a chain-link fence, where the only "amenity" might be a dog's drinking fountain.
Image by J. Coyier


In addition to providing a new green space for the residents of Santa Monica, the park functions as a visual buffer between the airport and the adjacent commercial and residential neighborhoods. The new $7-million Airport Park includes a state-of-the-art soccer field with 80-foot-tall lighting standards with shielded lamps, an off-leash dog park planted with fragrant ground cover and shrubbery that features separate areas for large and small dogs, a children's playground, a picnic area with six barbecues as well as informal open space and restroom and storage facilities.






The running track weaving through the park is decomposed granite that has been stabilized. The city was split over which kind of surface to choose. The choice involved maintenance and durability versus porosity. Although the track ended up being non-porous, the rest of the park is permeable.
Image by L. McGuire


The Two-Legged Challenges

There were many challenges in the planning for the park. Solidifying the program required many community meetings, plus assessments of maintenance costs in keeping with the city budget, Plus compromises that had to be made between sports enthusiasts, picnickers and dog owners.






Santa Monica Airport Park has garnered lots of attention recently, winning design awards from two distinguished civic groups - the Los Angeles Architectural Award in Landscape/Civic category, and the Westside Prize in the Urban Solutions/Built category - as well as from the Southern California Chapter, American Society of Landscape Architects, a few months earlier.
Image by J. Coyier


In addition, there was the issue of who exactly was going to be allowed to use the park. The airport is surrounded by Los Angeles. The entire south side of the park is bordered by that city, with no Santa Monica residents. Yet the park--and especially the dog park--was for use by Santa Monica residents only. Finally, it was determined that Los Angeles city residents could use the dog park by purchasing a season pass, however, people must have ID.

As of now, the soccer fields are locked and only available to designated local teams, but both Santa Monica and Los Angeles residents can use the barbecues, bathrooms, running tracks and picnic areas.






Synthetic turf was installed on the sports field using a $1.5-milllion state grant obtained by the city. Infiltration beds under the sports field will retain storm water from portions of the airport and the park, improving the city's storm water management. The parking lots were paved in permeable asphalt pavement for storm-water retention.


The Four-Legged Challenges

There were also challenges to the construction and design for the remediation problems. There were toxic concerns regarding the area where the dog park is sited because it had always been part of the airport. Car storage, junk and debris were all over the east side from many years of dumping. The city of Santa Monica cleaned it up, but it was ideal for the dog park because the topography helped with the issues of drainage.






"The surrounding industrial architecture also informed the design of the park," says Abe. "For example, in choosing benches and tables for the picnic areas and lighting for the site and sports fields, we selected galvanized steel for its industrial look, instead of the traditional colorful, rustic-looking park furniture and finishes."


The Stormwater Challenges

In keeping with the City's commitment to sustainable development and quality design, ah'be landscape architects incorporated sustainable techniques and features that address storm-water management, landscape planting and irrigation.






ah'be's playful use of windsocks at key locations in Santa Monica Airport Park celebrates the site's aeronautic history and marks the park as a gateway to the city, the airport and points far afield.
Images by K. Naverson


The goal was to be "100% Permeable." That required the parking lot to be permeable as well, and since it was located higher than the park it would present a flooding problem in the rainy season. They used permeable asphalt, not concrete. It was an experiment that required exploration, however time was of the essence since it was a civil problem that needed handling. Unfortunately, it worked too well. The parking lot captured all the water, however there wasn't enough base material so it bubbled up. After a series of storms, the ground was saturated. It was decided to put in an area drain to make sure all the water could be effectively captured and now it works very well.






"The airport connects the city to other parts of the world," says Abe, whose firm was involved with all phases of the project, from planning through construction. "In designing the park, we expressed this notion through a series of pathways that abstractly represent people making connections and also suggest taxiways and runways."


A Definite Winner

The Westside Urban Forum jury offered high praise to ah'be for Santa Monica Airport Park, saying, "Constrained by flight noise and patterns overhead, this park made something out of a leftover space… As a result of its lively design, it has become very much a community destination."






In addition to providing a new green space for the residents of Santa Monica, the park functions as a visual buffer between the airport and the adjacent commercial and residential neighborhoods. It also features a children's playground, a picnic area with six barbecues as well as informal open space and restroom and storage facilities.


ah'be landscape architects' Santa Monica Airport Park has garnered lots of attention recently, winning design awards from two distinguished civic groups – the Los Angeles Business Council (Los Angeles Architectural Award in Landscape/Civic category), and the Westside Urban Forum (Westside Prize in the Urban Solutions/Built category) – as well as from its own peers, the Southern California Chapter, American Society of Landscape Architects, a few months earlier.






Using Kompan play equipment kept the design in keeping with the post industrial look of the airport. Galvanized steel prevails, even in the fencing . The use of sand as a playground base material added to the permeability of the site.
Images by L. McGuire




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December 6, 2019, 12:47 pm PDT

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