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Downtown Park Earns Excellence Award


The Palm Springs Downtown Park has won the 2022 Award of Excellence for General Design from the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA). Landscape Architecture’s highest honor, this award celebrates design excellence, sustainability, climate adaptation, resiliency, and design value. Out of 506 entries, 28 winners were chosen.

They were designed by Los Angeles-based multidisciplinary architecture and design firm RIOS.

Community-centered Design

Palm Springs Downtown Park is an inviting 1.5-acre urban oasis for residents and visitors to Palm Springs.

The park lies in the ancestral homeland of the Agua Caliente band of the Cahuilla people, who seasonally migrated between the shady palm groves and meltwater creeks of mountain canyons in summer and the hot springs and temperate climate of the valley floor in winter.

palm canyon trail

The park is also located on the historic Nellie Coffman’s Desert Inn site. An early booster of Palm Springs, Coffman stressed the space, stillness, solitude, and simplicity of Palm Springs. Nellie’s “four S’s” would inspire the park’s design, which amplifies the intrinsic qualities of this extraordinary place to immerse visitors in the multisensory beauty of the desert and celebrate Palm Springs’ legacy as a destination for health, nature, and pleasure seekers.

desert inn

The park consists of three spaces: the Palm Grove, the Outcrop, and the Theater. Each offers distinct programmatic capacities and reveals facets of the region’s dynamic geology, distinctive vegetation, and rich history.

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The Palm Grove

The densely planted Palm Grove satisfies the need to achieve thermal comfort in the extreme heat of summer days. The tight arrangement of over 130 Washingtonia Filifera, California’s only native palm, was inspired by team hikes to Palm Canyon on the Agua Caliente Reservation. The canyon’s sandy floor and continuous canopy formed a cooling cathedral that significantly influenced the Downtown Park’s identity.


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The design team measured air temperatures inside and outside Palm Canyon and mapped the spacing of its palms. Most of the palms retained their frond skirts except where a fire had burned them off and charred their trunks. Some had even been struck by lightning, creating a sinuous trunk form known as a “snake palm”. For the park, palms of varying heights were selected for their unique and irregular forms and composed to create shady social eddies of varying sizes.


3D modeling of seasonal shade scenarios ensured coverage throughout the year. Custom aluminum park furnishings stay cool to the touch and are left loose for users to “follow the shade” throughout the day. Visitors can move them around.

After dark, the grove is illuminated to glow like a lantern, inviting park users into the cooler evening hours.

Downtown Park

The Outcrop

Team hikes in Tahquitz Canyon offered an up-close experience of the colorful banded rock formations offering striking views from the valley floor. The team abstracted this geology into a custom “sedimentary” finish for shotcrete vertical walls and pre-cast concrete modular seat blocks that retain slopes and form gathering spaces in the park. The uplifted geologic layers of the Outcrop reflect the amber tones that make up the San Jacintos, reddish and rumpled sandstones along the base, and desaturated and smooth granite along the top.

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Meandering trails rise with a landform at the east as the Outcrop becomes the backdrop for the park’s dramatic centerpiece, a powerful cascade inspired by Tahquitz Canyon’s iconic waterfalls. In front of the waterfall is an interactive water feature of jets and fog emitters that cools the heart of the park while bringing the magic of surrounding mountains into the urban core. The Outcrop’s westernmost extent contains park restrooms and a police substation fully integrated into the geologic structure.

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The Theater

Park visitors flock to the shade of the Palm Grove and the relief of the Outcrop’s water features to beat the heat during the day, but at night, as temperatures come down, the Theater comes to life. This space honors the cultural heritage of Palm Springs. The theater hosts an array of events, from live performances, lectures, film nights, and music festivals, taking place on an elevated stage with a capacity of over 1,000 people on the event lawn and amphitheater seat blocks stepping up into the Outcrop. A palm frond-inspired shade canopy frames the stage and has a dramatic backdrop of the Palm Springs Art Museum and the San Jacinto Mountains.

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The materials and the plantings in the park are rooted in the character and natural history of Palm Springs. Local ‘Palm Springs Gold’ stone was sourced from a quarry 10 miles away and used as boulders, cobble mulch, concrete topcast, and decomposed granite to complement the hues and tones of the surrounding mountains.

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Climate-appropriate native and regional desert plantings were specified to provide ecological habitat, attract native pollinators such as monarch butterflies and hummingbirds, and showcase the desert’s biodiversity. Mesquite and Palo verde trees provide shade and anchor a more arid and sculptural palette of ocotillo, agave, and barrel cactus on the Outcrop. Hesperaloe, bulbine, and desert milkweed are among the more colorful species in the Palm Grove planting areas, which also contain a series of rain gardens receiving and filtering all stormwater from the park.

Armrests on the seat blocks increase accessibility while offering pops of vibrant color sampled from the blooms of the surrounding flora.

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Plant List

‘Desert Museum’ Palo Verde – Parkinsonia x ‘Desert Museum’

Deglet Nour Date Palm – Phoenix dactylifera ‘Deglet Nour’

Thornless Hybrid Mesquite – Prosopis x ‘Phoenix’

Hybrid Fan Palm – Washingtonia x ‘Filibusta’

California Fan Palm – Washingtonia filifera

Variegated Foxtail Agave – Agave attenuata ‘Variegata’

Desert Milkweed – Asclepias subulata

Tangerine Stalked Bulbine – Bulbine frutescens ‘Tiny Tangerine’

Sundrops – Calylophus hartwedii v. fendleri

Sierra Starr Fairy Duster – Calliandra ‘Sierra Starr’

Sierra Gold Lemon Dalea – Dalea capitata ‘Sierra Gold’

Black Dalea – Dalea frutescens ‘Sierra Negra’

Rock Verbena – Glandularia pulchella

Desert Dusk Hesperaloe – Hesperaloe parviflora ‘Desert Dusk’

Desert Flamenco Hesperaloe – Hesperaloe parviflora ‘Desert Flamenco’

Pink Parade Hesperaloe – Hesperaloe x ‘Perfu’ ‘Pink Parade’

Mexican Honeysuckle – Justicia spicigera

Lindheimer Muhly – Muhlenbergia lindheimeri ‘Autumn Glow’

Mexican Oregano – Poliomintha maderensis ‘Lavender Spice’

Big Bend Yucca – Yucca rostrata

Whale’s Tongue Agave – Agave ovatifolia

Purple Three Awn – Aristida purpurea

Desert Milkweed – Asclepias subulata

Desert Marigold – Baileya multiradiata

Sundrops – Calylophus hartwegii v. fendleri

Grey Desert Spoon – Dasylirion wheeleri

Golden Barrel Cactus – Echinocactus grusonii

Brittlebush – Encelia farinosa

Ocotillo – Fouquieria splendens

Yellow Yucca – Hesperaloe parviflora ‘Yellow’

Desert Lavender – Hyptis emoryi

Chuparosa – Justicia californica

Creosote – Larrea tridentata

Lindheimer Muhly – Muhlenbergia lindheimeri ‘Autumn Glow’

Deer Grass – Muhlenbergia rigens

Hardy Spineless Prickly Pear – Opuntia canacapa ‘Ellisiana’

Desert Mallow – Sphaeralcea ambigua

Arizona Rosewood – Vauquelinia californica

Soaptree Yucca – Yucca elata

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