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Texas-Scale Energy

6-20 travelogue art largeBy Jim McCloskey

Let’s journey to the Lone Star State once again to see an appropriately grand-scale waterfeature – and another exuberant collaboration between renowned architects Philip Johnson and John Burgee, who also devised the Fort Worth Water Gardens highlighted in the January 25, 2012 edition of this newsletter.

This time, we’ll stop downstate in Houston to see the monumental Williams Waterwall in the Gerald D. Hines Waterwall Park. Built in conjunction with the office tower across the plaza and commissioned in 1985, this Post-Modernist watershape shows what can happen when talented designers are given free rein and a large canvas.

Johnson set the waterwall up as a horseshoe-shaped rush of water rising 64 feet into the air (to echo the 64 stories of the tower). About 80,000 gallons circulate through the system, which goes to show how the texturing of wall surfaces and ingenious visual management can give the impression that much larger volumes are involved. The wall is fronted by a Roman-style proscenium arch, making the waterwall a natural setting for theatrical performances despite the fact that the ambient noise would make any words rather difficult to hear.

There are some who would say that this project came through at a time when Post-Modernism was starting to lose its appeal – maybe it was fatigue with disembodied elements such as this proscenium arch? While my personal bias leads me to wish at least that the proscenium was less massive so the water stood out more, it is clear that Johnson and Burgee knew their stuff and produced a composition that speaks well of the city’s ambitions.

I haven’t seen the wall in person since the late 1980s, but I was pleasantly reminded of its existence by news that a modern dance troupe (no need for speeches to be heard over the cascading water!) was taking advantage of the setting. Those stories carried no video coverage I’ve been able to find, but I enjoyed considering how the performers managed to integrate the water into their gyrations.

It might be a bit over the top, but this watershape is still one I’d recommend as an essential pilgrimage for anyone who’s in the vicinity.

For a brief video, click here.

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