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September 2005 - Capital Project of the Month

Ronald McNair Park

Project Team: Nancy Prince with Alex Hart and Susan Coker

Image of the Plan for the construction of McNair Park

Site History

McNair Park circa 2005

The land for McNair Park was acquired by the City of New York in 1986. The site is a level, open undeveloped, mid block area located between Lexington and Third Avenues and accessible from 122nd and 123rd streets. The area was once occupied by tenement buildings that are now gone. It’s located in Harlem, within Community Board # 11 and Council District # 8.

Design Intent

In 1990, plans to develop the site into a multi-use park and science playground were never realized due to the economic recession in the early 90’s. Today , Council Member Reed gave $1.8 million to develop this important neighborhood park with active and passive recreation to commemorate the life of astronaut Dr. Ronald McNair. Dr. McNair lost his life in the Challenger space shuttle tragedy in 1986. Besides being an astronaut, McNair was also a physicist, aKarate instructor, and a performing jazz saxophonist..

The design of the park reflects McNair's interests in physics andspace science, and is manifested in the design of the play units, site furnishings, pavements and decorative lighting.


image of plan for McNair Park

The nine planets for a child size exploration of the solar system

his park design was inspired by teaching tools found on the Challenger Center web site. The Challenger Center, established by the families of the 1986 Challenger astronauts, is a multi media resource for teaching school age children about space and science. One exercise engages students by having them compare the relative size of the planets in our solar system. The design for Ronald McNair Park gives this exercise a large scale physical form. The nine planets can be found in the pavement and curbs of the park. For example, Jupiter is represented by a 77’-8” ring of pavement, incised with the planet’s name around a lawn area. Pluto is represented by a 1’-3” granite disk paver.


image of the proposed route for the Planet Walk

To show the vast scale of our solar system we are proposing a planet walk from the Sun to Pluto along the sidewalks of 122nd. Street in front of the park, west and around Marcus Garvey Park to Pluto. The size of the planets and the distances between their orbits will both be in proportion. Planet walks have been very popular in other cities around the US. Planet markers could be stainless steel set in the sidewalk.


Analemmatic sundial

This will be a pattern in the pavement. A child stands in a designated spot according to the month and their body will cast a shadow that falls on numbers thereby telling the time.

Earth Sundial

Earth Sundial

This is a stationary globe with New York located at the top. Sunshine will move across the globe as it does across the earth.

Spacestation play equipment

Spacestation play equipment

One large play unit will look something like a space station. A small unit will allow young children to roll play and pretend they are operating a spaceship.

The Phases of the moon

The Phases of the moon

The phases of the moon will be found in a custom climber that will have spheres that are ˝ black and ˝ white.

Spinning equipment

Spinning equipment

several play pieces both for younger and older kids will spin. The spin rate can be controlled by leaning in or out.

Whisper Dishes

Whisper Dishes

These will be a pair of parabolic curved steel dishes that face each other across the park. One child whispering into one dish can be heard by a child at the dish across the park.



The spray shower will have a precast concrete dome with moon like craters. Water will mist, spray and run in a small trough around this moon providing water play opportunity for various age children.

layout of the playground

Trees, shrubs, perennials and groundcover will surround all the interesting and active features of this park. These plants will be both typical of McNair’s native South Carolina and well adapted to our northern urban setting. A synthetic turf lawn will provide a soft place for play, relaxing and special events. The layout of the playground will accommodate a future comfort station. Solar powered light emitting pavers will also be included in the paths to amend the standard park lighting and give an ethereal glow at night. The park will also include plenty of comfortable benches, drinking fountains and trash receptacles.

Additional Information