Friday, February 28, 2014

Oasis in the Urban Core: Phillip Johnson's Water Gardens, Fort Worth

For as much as I malign Fort Worth, Texas, the place does have a few good thing going for it that help make it at least somewhat tolerable to live here: its art scene.

Downtown has a strong performing arts community with a symphony, an opera, several small acting companies and great performance venues. It has three world-class art museums, the Kimbell, the Fort Worth Museum of Modern Art, and the Amon Carter Museum of American Art. And it has several notable sculptures and public art spaces that demand your attention.

One of my favorite places in all of Fort Worth is the Water Gardens, constructed in 1974 on the south side of the downtown urban core. Water Gardens was created by noted architects Phillip Johnson and John Burgee, and consist of three components: an active water area, with water cascading from all directions into a center basin, which can be accessed by steps into its core; a plaza surrounded by terraced limestone or terrazo walls, suitable for public performances or gatherings such as weddings; and a sunken reflecting pond--the "silent waters" surrounded by angled aggregate walls down which water runs; the reflecting pool is surrounded by trees which give the area shade in summer. The entire installation seems removed from a bustling downtown just steps away, and the circulation of water makes it a cool refuge from the heat of a Fort Worth summer day.

Water Gardens isn't without controversy: three children and an adult, visitors from Chicago, died in the active water pool in 2004 when one fell in and was sucked underwater by recirculating pumps. The others subsequently died trying to rescue the first child. Though a large settlement was reached with Fort Worth, to the city's credit the Water Gardens reopened after modifications that didn't effect its appearance much at all.

It is a beautiful place to visit. Peaceful. Removed from the bustle. And the angles and movement of water through the piece make it a wonderful photographic subject.

I've uploaded a gallery of images from an afternoon spent at the Gardens, and you're invited to visit it here:

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