Travelogues & History

Elusive Meaning
I'm drawn to water whenever I hear or see it - and this was a case where both factors came into play simultaneously. After spending a couple hours enjoying the garden portion of the Roberto Burle Marx exhibition at the New York Botanical Garden last September, my family and I spent some time exploring NYBG's other attractions on a leisurely
An Unexpected Treat
There have been a few times in life when I've turned a corner and gasped. Coming through the long tunnel into Yosemite Valley for the first time and seeing Bridal Veil Falls, Half Dome and El Capitan all at once did it for me. Seeing the Fountains at Bellagio for the very first time did it, too. Beyond that rare sort of experience, however, I've been pretty unflappable. Just a few weeks ago, however, gasping erupted again as I made my way through
Communing with Roberto
The great Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx has been part of my consciousness for many years. I first heard of him in 1991, when a friend who'd seen an exhibition about his work at the Museum of Modern Art in New York gave it a rave review. At the time, however, it was mostly his unusual name that stuck in mind. Then came 2007, when WaterShapes published an article by Raymond Jungles that recounted his experience in working with Burle Marx in Brazil and fully opened my eyes to the
Fun on the Road
Back in February, I devoted a Travelogue to my efforts to help a designer acquaintance of mine decide how to spend a watershape-related vacation with her family - and the result, she reports, was a great deal of fun. This made me feel good, of course. If you'll recall, she had started planning a summer trip for her family and wanted to be able to "spend a day or two taking in some great fountains and waterfeatures" while her spouse ran around amusement parks and other active attractions with their two young sons. She's based in the upper Midwest, so I wasn't surprised to learn that she'd organized a June trip to Missouri that included both St. Louis and Kansas City. Kansas City had been at the top of my list for her, and I was pleased to hear that Worlds of Fun is there, too - although I had not known that. Nor had I known about a Six Flags establishment outside St. Louis, so it seems the two-city, ten-day vacation came off to everyone's satisfaction. The most heartening thing I heard, however, was that she'd shared some of her passion for fountains with her family, getting them to take brief breaks from thrill rides and join her as she sought out great and inspirational watershapes in both cities. She noted, as I had warned her from my own experience, that as grand as Kansas City's Henry Wollman Bloch Fountain truly is, for instance, it's no match in excitement for a huge drop on a big roller coaster. But she was more than happy to fire up the boys' curiosity and start them thinking about how, for example, moving water serves as nature's air conditioner. Especially on hot days, she observed, they were more than happy to sidle up to the water's edge and take advantage of what she'd taught them. She also heeded my suggestion that these doses of enlightenment should be held to reasonable levels: She'd head off on her own again, she said, when it was clear their energy needed an outlet and it was time to let them step out with dad to enjoy their ten- and 12-year-old selves. I'd had the same sorts of vacation experiences with our three girls long ago: They weren't obsessed with roller coasters, but they did require more stimulation than was to be found in standing by a fountain with me as I figured out how certain effects had been achieved or, more often, as I wondered why certain decisions had been made. The best part of all of this is a story that warmed my heart. In chatting with her earlier this year, I had told my midwestern friend that seeing great watershapes has always reminded me of why I love what I do - and of the elation I feel after umpteen years of having fountains make me grin from ear to ear. So when she told me her older boy had asked her at one point if this was the sort of thing she did in her work and whether it was fun to do, I had a special sense of joy I hadn't had since Judy and I were on the road when our girls were that young. As I'd discussed with my designer friend months ago, I knew all about the inspiration she herself would find on her family's road trip. But I also knew it was possible, just maybe, that seeing water at its dynamic best would make a strong, positive impression on her kids and even her husband - and how proud they'd be that she was part of something so magical. I still look at watershapes through a child's eyes - at the Gateway Geyser, for example, or at the waterscapes in Forest Park or at the Botanical Garden in St. Louis - and know how cool it can be (in moderation) to let family members and close friends in on how things work and the technologies those who designed and built a given watershape used to achieve various effects. I knew the Missouri tour had the makings of a great vacation for me; I'm so happy in this case that it all worked out for someone else and her family!
A Basement’s Bounty
In our usual run of business as installers of stone and tile in and around New York City, we can get involved in projects that take years to complete and involve us in applying tens of thousands of square feet of material within or onto a single high-rise building. In some of these projects, a pool or spa comes as part of the package, but they tend to be such small parts of the overall picture that it's fairly tough to focus on them. This was not the case, however, in our work on the renovation of the swimming pool and spa in the historic Woolworth Building in lower Manhattan. When it opened in 1913, this was the tallest skyscraper on the city's skyline and held that distinction for 17 years. For a time, it was the
Celebrating a Legend
Sad to say, I will not be able to see this exhibition for myself. But if you live within striking distance of the New York Botanical Garden or have any plans to be anywhere near New York City between now and September 29, please do not fail to visit NYBG while "Brazilian Modern: The Living Art of Roberto Burle Marx" is up and running. This amazing event has
Stepping in Style
As you've probably noticed by now, I'm a big fan of Lawrence Halprin's work. I've probably covered a half-dozen of his projects in Travelogues through the past eight years, and I can easily see myself covering a half-dozen more in installments to come. Halprin is perhaps best known for the muscular, rough-hewn stonework that highlights not only the FDR Memorial in Washington, D.C., but also the Ira Keller Fountain in Portland, Ore. Yet his output also featured elegance and a sense of
White House Adjacent
I was guided to this place on one of my numerous visits to Washington, D.C., in the early 1990s. I" d met a friend for lunch in the adams morgan neighborhood, and afterwards she recommended walk over to nearby meridian hill park see some cool architecture nice water feature. I was guided to this place on one of my numerous visits to Washington, D.C., in the early 1990s. I" d met a friend for lunch in the adams morgan neighborhood, and afterwards she recommended walk over to nearby meridian hill park see some cool architecture nice waterfeature. She was partly correct: The architecture was indeed cool, but the waterfeature was brilliant - unlike anything I had ever seen in the United States - and the story behind the property was plentiful icing on the cake. I was guided to this place on one of my numerous visits to Washington, D.C., in the early 1990s. I" d met a friend for lunch in the adams morgan neighborhood, and afterwards she recommended walk over to nearby meridian hill park see some cool architecture nice waterfeature. The park is located on a hill due north of the White House, and in 1804 Thomas Jefferson had a marker placed there along what became known as the White House Meridian as a geographical landmark for the then-developing city. After the War of 1812, the longstanding estate was acquired by Commodore David Porter, a war hero who eventually built a splendid mansion that offered views down to the White House and the Potomac River. I was guided to this place on one of my numerous visits to Washington, D.C., in the early 1990s. I" d met a friend for lunch in the adams morgan neighborhood, and afterwards she recommended walk over to nearby meridian hill park see some cool architecture nice waterfeature An author and activist, she was an ardent supporter of women's suffrage, temperance and vegetarianism - altogether a bold character. One of her plans, proposed in 1898, included moving the president's residence from the White House up to Meridian Hill. Topping herself, she also wanted the then-in-planning Lincoln Memorial to be built on her hill as well. I was guided to this place on one of my numerous visits to Washington, D.C., in the early 1990s. I" d met a friend for lunch in the adams morgan neighborhood, and afterwards she recommended walk over to nearby meridian hill park see some cool architecture nice waterfeature. Thwarted in both objectives, the "Empress of 16th Street" built and leased out a number of lots as embassies and mansions and then turned her focus to convincing the government to buy her remaining large property and turn it into a park. This project took hold: The land was purchased by the government in 1910, by which time Mary was 69 years old. She lived to be 90. I was guided to this place on one of my numerous visits to Washington, D.C., in the early 1990s. I" d met a friend for lunch in the adams morgan neighborhood, and afterwards she recommended walk over to nearby meridian hill park see some cool architecture nice waterfeature. In 1914, the government hired landscape architect George Burnap to create classic, European-style gardens for the new park. These plans were then modified by a second landscape architect, Horace Peaslee. What emerged was a stepped garden that took more than 20 years to complete. One key highlight: The park contains the world's first experiment - successful, I might add - with an exposed-aggregate finish. I was guided to this place on one of my numerous visits to Washington, D.C., in the early 1990s. I" d met a friend for lunch in the adams morgan neighborhood, and afterwards she recommended walk over to nearby meridian hill park see some cool architecture nice waterfeature But I'm letting the park's overall story lead me astray: Its main event is a 13-basin water stair in the Italian Renaissance style. Flanked by twin concrete stairways finished entirely with exposed aggregate, the cascade starts with fountain jets at the foot of a balustrade-topped, Italian-style wall and flows down to a final basin where the descending torrent is supplemented by spouting gargoyles. The water then passes over a final weir and into a large basin and ponds highlighted by fountain bowls and more gargoyles and fountain jets. I was guided to this place on one of my numerous visits to Washington, D.C., in the early 1990s. I" d met a friend for lunch in the adams morgan neighborhood, and afterwards she recommended walk over to nearby meridian hill park see some cool architecture nice waterfeature The whole composition was an unexpected delight - well worth straying from the Capitol Mall and the Smithsonian museums for a lingering visit. It's also within easy reach of the National Zoo - another worthy Washington attraction that too easily escapes attention. I was guided to this place on one of my numerous visits to Washington, D.C., in the early 1990s. I" d met a friend for lunch in the adams morgan neighborhood, and afterwards she recommended walk over to nearby meridian hill park see some cool architecture nice waterfeature My understanding is that Meridian Hill Park's cascade has been off for more than a year, undergoing a number of small repairs as well as the replacement of aging cast-iron pipes with plumbing made of a more suitable material. It's supposed to be up and running again by this summer, so give it a look: It's in an interesting part of the city that too few tourists ever see. I was guided to this place on one of my numerous visits to Washington, D.C., in the early 1990s. I" d met a friend for lunch in the adams morgan neighborhood, and afterwards she recommended walk over to nearby meridian hill park see some cool architecture nice waterfeature.To see a video of the water stair - not great quality but it gets the idea across admirably - click here.
Demodeling
When I was a kid, we'd take occasional family car trips to places all over southern California to see the sights. One of my dad's favorite destinations was San Diego, and what I remember most about those drives was the fact that now-overbuilt Orange County was still mostly vast beanfields all along
Strangely Sublime
I must start by letting you know that I have yet to see this watershape personally. Even so, it is so extraordinarily odd and conceptually brilliant that I couldn't resist writing it up and suggesting we all should add it to our lists of things we need to see while we still can. Situated off an intersection in the heart of Bern, Switzerland, the fountain is called "The Spiral Column (Nature's Way)" and is the work of Meret Oppenheim, a German-born Swiss artist who became an icon of the Surrealist movement and had a career that spanned more than 50 years from the 1930s into the 1980s. This fountain is one of her last works, completed just two years before she died in 1985 - and indeed she didn't last long enough after its dedication to see how it turned out. The original spiral tower was simple enough in form, maybe even a bit dull - sort of like a section of threaded rod with a weird hat. The real genius came in Oppenheim's anticipation of what would happen as the structure flowed year 'round with water from a mineral-rich source: Before long, the water's calcium content began depositing itself on the surface of the tower, adding strange protuberances that keep growing so dramatically that, periodically, the city needs to chip them back to keep the composition from toppling. Born in 1903, Oppenheim moved in distinctly artistic circles as she grew up and eventually moved to Paris at age 18 to study and, more steadily, hang out with other artists. In 1933, she was invited by friends to participate in a Surrealist exhibition and quickly rose to prominence among her peers, before long becoming part of André Breton's influential circle. Later, she returned to her Swiss roots, taking up residence in Bern in the 1960s. The legacy she left behind in her chosen home base is just fascinating: The Spiral Column changes daily as water flows shift in response to the calcium growth. And then there are the various plants, mosses and lichens that have taken hold: They change colors as time passes, growing and fading with the seasons. Finally, in the dead of Bern's long winters, the spiral is wrapped in icicles in odd patches, with the white drapery projecting outward to reveal all of the surface distortions that have accumulated during the year. It's a spectacular idea, one worthy of respect and admiration. But apparently it's something of a civic issue that the composition is also spectacularly ugly. The local attitude toward Oppenheim's fountain reminds me of the occasional uprisings in San Francisco aimed at demolishing the Vaillancourt Fountain, another Brutalist waterfeature that seems under perpetual threat. By comparison, however, the Vaillancourt Fountain is actually on the pretty side, and even I would have objections to "The Spiral Column" if I didn't perceive it as such a timeless, insightful look inside the nature of water, calcium and the persistence of plants and microorganisms. I also think it's both ironic and hilarious that the city has tried to dress the fountain area up with large foreground flower pots: Anyone with enough ill-will to think of ramming the hideous fountain to do away with it will have to destroy conventional beauty on the way. I haven't been to Switzerland since the 1970s and haven't felt much need to go back - until now, that is. This is one weird fountain, and I'm anxious to see it for myself!