Blending Light With Water


The mixtures of physical elements reaches a cool sort of crescendo when we combine the simple concepts of Nighttime and artificial lighting. Humans install all sorts of wonders inside and around their various architectural concoctions of water-based landscaping. From tiny doorway ponds, set just beside our front doors to provide the gurgling sounds of Peace. to the small lights we install to enhance its nighttime appearance to the massive structures of light and water magic itself in cities like Barcelona, Dubai, Las Vegas and Singapore, our craving for beauty never stops. The fact that these altogether wholesome and wonderful urges get met by designers and inventors with our highest hopes implicit yields the fabulous work we see below.

The illusions Noguchi sought in his “9 Floating Fountains” constructed for the 1970 Osaka Worls’s Fair still glimmer in the Osaka nights, seemingly dumping tons of water from tight square clouds.

What seems most remarkable, in the end, is the role lighting played in this marvelous bit of architectural whimsy. We do also understand that lights combined with water both bend and refract the light rays in incredibly pronounced ways. We see this from far smaller scale water features in lakes, ponds and the more strictly residential and homey edifices we make ourselves.

The tendency for water to literally conduct light waves gives us possibilities which can provide wonder from the smallest, tiny pond sizes, such as this:

The larger, a bit more expensive gobs of visual pleasure which take on a visceral magic….


..and reaching a sort of Ultimate in Grand Designs of the most far-thinking architects and artists on a gigantic scale -:


We are so fortunate, in the end, to have modern specialists who now seemingly routinely embrace the lighting and water phenomenon and who have designed a great series of total wonders as our own eye candy and inner thrills. Light Shows have made not only the lexicon of modern life but also have come to represent many of the highest achievements in architecture.

The magnificent urban setting set the standard in the world for what would come next. Other cities proceeded to become equally fountain-famous – Kansas City, New York for the World’s Fair in 1936, Osaka in 1970, leading to the extravagant masterpieces of the casinos in Las Vegas, Macau and Singapore.


Making the Unusually Wonderful is getting easier and hopefully more common. We can all be glad of this.

A ‘Pond In The Woods’

I am in the process of filtering through older posts and pictures to come up with book-worthy materials. In the end, while browsing through this blog, I find myself somewhat surprised at my persistence, yet discomfited in the realization of how incredibly many projects I never got pictures of. There must be 100 projects I have managed which are interesting and maybe pretty enough to include in a retrospective, but for which I have no photos. Vancouver being on the other side of the continent doesn’t help, or I would delight in taking 25 year shots which I can strictly guarantee will not resemble their beginnings.

Perhaps the single most remarkable fact about this one is in its origins. What we are talking about is looking out a back porch and seeing forest such as is now moved back to allow in the landscaping, but which basically abutted the home itself. We had loggers in, dug up stumps, produced a mess like nobody’s business, then we dug this ginormous hole in the ground and did all this cosmetic work. It was one hell of a chore.

Rumor has it this place is now on the Portland Garden Walk, officially an “important” local feature. It caused various degrees of consternation and some panic during its construction, but then, every single project does that, bar none. Enjoy.

(The pictures expand by clicking)


My recent visit to Portland included revisiting this eye candy project and some speaking with the new owners who were delighted to know all the ins and outs of the construction of this place.

I have featured this project in other posts but I have recently unearthed a new little trove of pictures taken as we were leaving. These pictures were taken on the day we actually finished the project. It’s hard to believe a month or two earlier the area was all mud, complete with the broken and sawed up tree parts and underbrush which comprised the entire area prior to our excavations and then landscaping. Interestingly, the water clarity in these pictures, although it gives a really pleasing mirror-like reflective finish, is still a bit dirty, proving the “unfinished” nature of it all. Later, it was crystal clear.

There were numerous and very intimidating challenges to it all. For one thing, the deck seen hovering over the water was always designed to stay just an inch above the waterline. Naturally, installing the deck preceded almost all the landscaping work save for the excavation. In typical fashion, therefore, it became our typical logistical nightmare.

Having said that, once a “level” is decided upon, at least we have something solid to base the rest of the construction on.  The impracticalities all come home to roost right around then.

picture 29

This project was pretty gnarly to make. The liner itself was something like 80′ by 60′, meaning it took 7 of us just to spread it out, much less to adjust it all. EPDM Liners are heavy as heck. Just getting it into the back yard required a machine. Nor was this the only liner on the project. We also had a creek to construct because we wanted at least some water recirculating and oxygenating instead of becoming an algae-infested mess. Yes, it is pretty much shady back there, but it still got enough sunshine to make algae an issue.

So we made a good sized creek, with a fairly good rate of flow. Making it look natural was pretty easy, frankly, owing to the density of plantings and the availability of plants we had relocated, ready for planting, upon the commencement of the project:

(click images to enlarge)


The look from the patio:


The project was complicated by the desire of the owners for a small island. Man, anything but that! 😉

This is not easy when designing with liners. The little mound where the island goes has to be made just right, at the proper height and width, nor can it eventually sink. So it got compacted to a large degree but not so it would become impossible to plant.

Hey – hand me that piano, OK?


When all was said and done, we had ourselves a real winner, I think. We found abundant forest material to insert into the edges of the water, making it appear far older than – ahem – one day old.



The Springtime effects look gorgeous in many of these shots – there were blooms galore and bright shiny new leaves everywhere.


The project remains a rather epic achievement for yours truly, shared by many others, of course. These sorts of projects can be frustrating and challenging but they seem more than worth the effort with a little ‘remove’.


The World’s Fountains

In a parallel Universe, I once wrote a blog for a local Louisville company: Pond And Fountain World. (link included). In so doing, it has allowed me to study and roam around, looking at an absolutely fascinating subject. Not only does the blog feature what they sell – currently-retailed pond and fountain accouterments, including an excellent selection of pre-made fountains, ready to deliver and install – but it also gives me the right and reason to explore the entirety of the world of fountains, internationally.

Wow! What a treat. Below from The University of Connecticut’s Waterbury Campus:


The designs of those who build these things come from a creativity one can only guess at in its artistic purity, apparent freedom and in their sometimes overal simple immensity. “Mind-boggling” comes to mind as we tour the most outlandish and absolutely breath-taking water-art sculptures, sitting as so many do in the public squares of our major cities. From the work of Lawrence Halprin in Portland, Oregon –


My great good friend, Steve, gets to sit at the bottom of Halprin’s Ira Keller Fountain in the face of the seeming vastness of the fountain while it crashes down, so nearby:


These gorgeous civic fountains are now becoming less formal and more amenable to “audience participation” these days – a welcome respite from an overly-litigious society in general, which I welcome wholeheartedly:


Here is Halprin’s stunning blend of  “The Natural” and “The Modern” work at the FDR Memorial in Washington, DC, shown here at night –

HALPRIN_Lawrence_FDR_Memorial_Naitonal_Mall_ded_May_2_1997_DC_source_LS_d100_Some History

Fountains were initially creations which were fed from aqueducts – the original plumbing apparatus, dating back at least 2,500 years. Often, these aqueducts would send water downwards, creating the pressure which allowed the newly-minted fountains in Greece, for initial historical example, to spurt water out for public and private consumption. Fountains and public water sources, fed by the rivers, lakes and streams in the mountains, began appearing around 260 BC in Ancient Greece. The notion of “siphoning” became pioneered and created works which could allow water to run or not run, depending on opening and closing a valve.

In the end, aqueducts would literally terminate in city centers or plaza’s where the resulting pressure and large quantities of water supplied could be more fully appreciated by attaching art work and form to the terminus.

The Trevi Fountain, in fact, Rome’s famous “Fountain Of Love” featured by Hollywood so many times, was just this sort of product.

Trevi Fountain at Night

(Picture credit here to Tour Of Rome, along with the quote below, capsulizing better than I could, a brief history of its construction.)

“There had been a source of water at this site for over a thousand years, although it was not until 1485 that Pope Nicholas V commissioned Gianlorenzo Bernini to create the fountain, but the project had to be abandoned when Pope Urban VIII died in 1644. Then in 1732, Niccolò Salvi was employed by Pope Clement XII to continue with the work, with the result being the Baroque masterpiece that completely dominates the little square today.”


For me, it is the mixture of “chthonic” elements – fit for the Gods alone – which assemble in the primordial primitive juxtaposition of the  jagged rocks which also seem  to be emitted by and to be so “at one” with the building behind. Like our own consciousness, we see a remarkable blend of the absolutely most Elemental mixed with the modern human and more mundane elements of muscle, posture and expressions. A fountain like this hits our perceptions in mental regions usually reserved for art. But then, who said fountains are not art?

Another personality who found the Lunatic Fringe of Modern Fountains is a Japanese designer named Isamu Noguchi. Below is his what is arguably his most famous work – his famous “Nine Floating Fountains”, constructed for the Osaka World’s Fair in 1970.

Here it is in daylight, obviously on a windy day –


And below is the night-time look for which it has become so famous:


But Mr. Noguchi was not done. He obviously loved the impractical and the utterly whimsical – and he was a master at it:


He also had a definite sense of humor!


We owe debts of gratitude on an unimaginable scale to the artists who have taken our technologies and our appreciation for Water Art to absolutely absurd but-always-interesting lengths.

Some of them have driven cities and countries to drink! Take Mr. Vaillancourt’s concrete irritation to the city of San Fransisco’s more “proper” sensibilities as an example. “Please”, many said, “take it!”. 😉


Some folks just need a sense of humor!

Can’t we all be friends?

william pye vortex fn

Fountains are very nearly a “First Love” for me. It would not take much to get me all the way there, either.


Can I get some Love for the Paris Stravinsky Fountain???


P6031001 Stravinsky Fountain

Unique Public Fountains & Spaces

Steve and Jody 009

My best friend Steve settles in, hard by the Ira Keller Fountain in Portland, Oregon, during their wonderful visit there a couple years back. The Keller Fountain offers a full body experience which can be especially refreshing on hot Summer days. Fountains such as this were designed to enjoy up close and personal, a wonderful civic experience amid the workaday world and the hubub therein.

Public edifices are like smiles – no one forces you use them. They are a response to an urge to appreciate ourselves and therefore make absolutely no real rational or intellectual sense. Like anything which is beautiful, the wonder is implicit as we adore what we see. I believe beauty lights us up inside by its contagious nature. I think that’s why God invented beautiful men and women. I mean, you can have too much mud, let’s face it.

(enlarge pictures by clicking)

Below, we catch a stunning work of man in this constructed waterfall and a couple of huge lakes on the Papa John’s Pizza campus in Louisville. It’s a wonderful place to walk, with a landscape just completely enriching to experience. The scale is pretty much off the charts – an installer’s Paradise, with tiny little projects abounding.

Catching the corporate Paradise urge, enlivening our outdoors with splendid works of architectural and constructed resemblances of Nature Herself, we go to Seattle and visit the amazing waterfall built by my friends at Teufel Nurseries for the Microsoft Campus. This one needs to be seen to fully appreciate.

I’m a huge urban fountain fan. I love seeing a bustling population all buzzing around these “human flypaper” structures. Humans are plain drawn to water – it’s a trait we probably manifested back when we were fish – (I’ll ask a couple of my older friends to verify) – our children seem to believe water is magical, even when contaminated with mud. It’s just that cool!

So what we get with these designs are not just the wonder of water itself, acting on us in all of water’s ineffably strange and subtle manners, but we also get to grade the structures made to support it all. This one below generally gets an “A”.

I guess it deserves it. 😉

This one below – The Magic Fountain – is in Barcelona – just another of the many reasons I need to see that town. The lighting alone on this stunning public fountain is absolutely Galactic Class:

Breath-taking, really, isn’t it?

Fun-loving civic projects – both publicly and privately-funded provide more grist for the Beauty Mill. For the vast majority of us, a puddle can be a world in and of itself. When placed in the hands of ambitious designers, they take on another entire realm of Wonder, such as this Singapore Fountain, the largest in the World:

It just doesn’t stop. Fun, vibrantly colorful, aided by lighting and engineering trickery, we look at such things and laugh. Their reason to exist is so tentative, yet so enabling for us all to catch our Souls as they smile.