Danehy Park – Universal Design Playground

Weston & Sampson worked with the City of Cambridge to design and construct a new playground using Universal Design principles within Danehy Park, located in North Cambridge. The playground is sited on top of an old landfill, which consumed a large void created by an early 1900s clay pit operated by the New England Brick Company. The clay was extracted and used in the manufacture of bricks, many of which were used throughout the Boston area. Our team used this unique site history to draw inspiration for select playground design elements.

We were responsible for conducting a thorough site evaluation, meetings and coordination with MassDEP, geotechnical investigations, developing preliminary concepts, refining the design concepts, determining the preferred design, developing schematic design plans and design development, preparing construction documentation, providing bid/contract award support, as well as assisting with MassDEP permitting (design and construction).

The inclusive playground design addresses the needs of both caretakers and users and integrate features that are attractive for users of all abilities while focusing particularly on those who face a host of recognized challenges. As such, we worked closely with a focus group of parents and other stakeholders whose lives are connected to individuals with a range of capacities and abilities. The focus group was well positioned to help inform design solutions.

Another unique aspect of the design included collaboration with the local arts community, including an artist with autism who creates vivid and compelling acrylic paintings; the NuVu studio, an innovative school for middle school and high school students that focuses on developing myriad design skills; and Mitch Ryerson, an artist renowned for his ability to design naturalized play experiences that are well integrated into their surroundings.

New park elements include sensory/nature play areas; a natural sloped area that makes use of the site’s high elevation point to engage and encourage passive play; a water play area; separate, accessible active play areas for children ages 2-5 and 5-12 while accommodating physical, sensory, and social needs; a primary entry area with parking and a drop-off zone, a secondary entry area, and a tertiary entry area; areas to accommodate gathering (both social and refuge); elements that offer a balance of sun and shade; on-site stormwater management; communication and signage; and a new tree canopy, as well as maintenance of an existing mature tree canopy. To be successful, the playground works with the existing unusual landform to create an awesome play and sensory experience while also fulfilling the need to establish moments of physical respite and refuge.


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