Landscape Architecture firm SWA‘s redesign of San Jacinto Plaza, a historic gathering place in El Paso’s downtown business district provides a state-of-the-art urban open space, while protecting and celebrating the history and culture of the site. The project was the result of an intensive community process involving input from a wide range of constituents. Active programming, environmental and economic sustainability, and great design have become the de facto criteria for catalyzing renewed interest and investment in the types of urban open spaces exemplified by the updated plaza.
“The centuries-old Arcadian park of axial paths, lawns, benches, and trees is under extreme pressure to adapt to a rapidly changing context of urban densification, cultural diversity, and community programming,” says Gerdo Aquino, CEO of SWA landscape architects and urban planners. Together with Ying-Yu Hung, Aquino led the redesign. “El Paso, Texas, is one such place whose 100-year-old, storied park has taken center stage in the evolving narrative of the city.”
Programming for the park was a main priority, as was the community’s desire to retain some of its historic identity. In response, SWA integrated the existing formal axial paths with informal paths and bridges that take park users to various destinations, including gaming areas for ping-pong, chess, and washoes (a local favorite similar to horseshoes but with water), a children’s splash pad, and a café with colorful seating arrangements.
At the park’s center, the designers restored Los Lagortos, a beloved sculpture by Luis Jimenez that pays tribute to the live alligators that inhabited the plaza over 45 years ago. Together with Lake Flato Architects, they created a metal structure to help protect the sculpture from the sun and also to provide a shaded area for activities.