From its perch atop a tiered fountain, a massive black cat prowls the entrance to the sports arena like a warrior mascot. Emblematic of both High Point University’s competitive spirit and the priority the institution places on water’s presence, Fountain People executed the dramatic project with the help of an elite watershaping team.
By Bryan Had
The Qubein Arena Panther Fountain project at High Point University in High Point, NC, was a remarkable endeavor undertaken by our company, Fountain People, Inc., one that amplifies the university’s pride and culture.
The circular tiered fountain features a magnificent 20-foot bronze sculpture of a Panther — the school’s mascot — designed by Californian artist Brian Keith in collaboration with LKC Engineering. The fountain boasts cascading water from upper to lower basins, with carefully selected LED lights illuminating the spectacle.
The project was part of a larger $170 million development that includes the arena, conference center, and hotel. High Point University — the customer for the Qubein Arena Panther Fountain project — sought to create an inspiring and captivating landmark that resonates with students, fans and visitors, while aligning with the university’s values of excellence and leadership.
The design and creation of the Panther Fountain was led by Brian Keith, an artist specializing in fine art sculptures. He collaborated closely with the client to ensure that the design met their requirements and preferences. LKC Engineering, represented by principal Robert Hayter and landscape architect Lou Sadler, provided design expertise and worked on the detailed visual and functional aspects of the project including two additional fountains that flank the larger panther fountain.
The fountain construction, architectural finishes, mounting of the sculpture, and management was the responsibility of the General Contractor, Smith & Jennings, Inc., a full-service grading company founded in 1947 and doing business out of High Point, NC. The fountain systems installation was carried out by Pfists Inc., a company based in Douglasville, GA, with expertise in fountain installations.
This fount is truly something special. It features a circular tiered design with a diameter of approximately 38 feet and a height of approximately 20 feet. The fountain is topped by a six-inch deep upper basin with an 18-foot diameter that houses the Panther sculpture platform. Water is introduced to the upper basin beneath the steel platform and flows down to the intermediate pool basin, which has a diameter of 21 feet.
“The basin has six-inches of water that creates a weir with water flowing over it like an infinity pool over its entire 360-dgree perimeter,” explains Hayter. From there, the water cascades down a series of steps to the lower basin before being returned to an equipment vault for filtration and recirculation.
“The waterfall is what we call a cascade-stair step that flows in a uniform way from top to bottom, which aerates the water so it looks like a waterfall,” he explains. As the water flows over the rocks, it agitates the water making it look like a real waterfall. “This is a very intentional and creates a very impactful, visual effect.”
The panther design led LKC Engineering to add rock outcrop to the fountain. “We custom designed a manmade rock formation after the panther was in place so the panther appears to be standing on rocks and floating over the water,” Hayter explains.
The panther sculpture itself is truly unique in its dramatic presence, even though there are quite a few panthers on campus. The sculpture is made of bronze and weighs over 5,000 lbs. Keith came with the panther on a semi-truck for the installation.
This fountainis not meant to be tranquil. It is not subtle or sedate. It is energetic. “Dr. Qubein, president of the university believes water represents power, energy and life,” Hayter says. “The fountain energizes folks as they come into the arena plaza, it’s a cauldron of energy.”
The fountain is a bit loud. “If you are walking near the fountain, it’s not deafening, but it is very much part of the background sounds,” Hayter says. “You hear crashing water from the fountain and can hear it even if you are 50 feet away.”
The fountain equipment includes various components such as freestanding and flush-mount lights, junction boxes, water-level sensors, skimmers, drains, diverter plates, water stops, and anti-vortex/diver sumps. These components are carefully selected and integrated into the fountain design to ensure proper functionality and aesthetics.
The fountain’s underground vault and control center is located about 50 feet away and contains all the water treatment, pumps, purification and plumbing. There is nothing in the base of the fountain.
The fountain is illuminated using LED lights in all three basins, creating a visually appealing display during nighttime operation or special events. The fountain lighting system incorporates both freestanding and niche LED lights, providing illumination in all three basins of the fountain. The LED lights used in the project were carefully selected for their functionality and ability to create captivating visual effects.
The upper basin and intermediate pool include 16 freestanding FX-LED-FS light fixtures, which feature RGBW diodes that allow for a wide range of color options, including individual colors or white light. The LED fixtures can be programmed and controlled using a DMX system, enabling dynamic light changing displays during nighttime operation or for special events.
The colors were chosen specifically to reflect the university’s school color, purple, but can also be programmed to other themes throughout the year — such as red and green at Christmas and orange during Halloween.
In addition, the lower basin features 16 stainless steel adjustable niche FX-LED-FM light fixtures integrated into the wall. These lights provide additional illumination and accentuate the architectural elements of the fountain.
Like the freestanding fixtures, the niche LED lights can also be set to individual colors or white, offering flexibility in creating desired lighting effects. Overall, the combination of freestanding LED lights with RGBW diodes and stainless-steel niche LED lights enhances the aesthetic appeal of the fountain.
FOUNTAIN TIMES THREE
Although the Panther Fountain is the most striking visual element in the space, there are two additional, circular fountains that sit on either side of the panther fountain in this large plaza in front of the arena. “As a team, it was our job to harmonize the landscape of form and function of the area in front of this unique space,” Hayter explains.
While there are several entrances to the building, the fountain with the panther is located in the plaza as you approach the building. “Designing in this hardscape area, we needed to create a large enough space for many people entering at once, but also to help with the flow of people gathering, as well as to allow for emergency vehicles and protection of the building itself,” Hayter explains. “And, of course, to create something visually outstanding.”
Lou Sadler was the primary designer for the two ‘mickey-mouse ear’ fountains on either side of the panther fountain. Sadler took care designing fountains that harmonized with the building’s architecture while also complementing the larger fountain. “The campus is Georgian architecture –but on steroids. The scale isn’t traditional, but the forms and materials are Georgian,” Hayter says.
Based on classic designs found in French and Italian fountains, the fountains have brick on the lower basin and the precast concrete that looks like limestone — borrowing from the arena’s architecture.
In a hydraulic sleight-of-hand, each bowl has its own supply of water that super-charges the flow so it looks like the water from the top makes it way to the bottom in a uniform manner, without running out of water by the time it gets to the bottom.
These fountains elements were completely custom made by Georgia Pre-Cast.
The fountains help with the flow of people and keep cars from getting too close to the auditorium for safety. The space is an active drop off/ valet area and very frequently is turned into an urban plaza for use before events in the arena. The hardscape in this plaza is made up entire of concrete unit pavers, a style known as Belgium cobble. It’s not rough and any shoe can walk on it—from stilettos to sneakers.
It’s very safe and imitates a stone street or plaza.
The visual cues for pedestrians and vehicles come from the hardscape pavers. For the crosswalks, LKC used paver stones that look like cleft rock. These pavers, are used throughoutin the non-vehicular zones so the texture and type of paver visually indicates that they are in a pedestrian zone. Additionally, there are crash rated bollard barricades that are positioned strategically near the fountains and are strong enough to prevent a runaway vehicle from inadvertently making its way toward the building.
The entire approach to the plaza with the fountains is also designed for what is known as ‘progressive realization.’ You can’t see the panther fountain all at once. There are roundabouts and an elliptical lawn that slow the approach to the plaza and challenge the visual perspective from multiple viewpoints as you approach the panther from the street. It’s a negotiated centerpiece, meaning you need to negotiate and head toward the panther, making it a visual reward.