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Simple Mastery
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Simple Mastery

0By Jim McCloskey

When I wrote about Lawrence Halprin’s Keller Fountain in Portland, Ore., in August 2012, I had meant to cover its Portland cousin, the Lovejoy Fountain, within a few months that have now turned into several years. Apologies for failing to double back sooner, because they really do fit together better than this span of time would suggest.

Lovejoy Plaza was the first completed installation in what is now known as the Portland Open Space Sequence, which includes four separate urban environments linked by promenades in a span covering eight blocks. Physically, Lovejoy Plaza is the second of the four spaces in the chain, which starts with the Source Fountain, moves past the Lovejoy Fountain, rolls through Pettygrove Park and ends up at the Keller Fountain.

Halprin was a pioneering advocate for this sequenced, themed approach to arranging urban spaces, and the fact that he became involved in Portland at a time of 1960s-style urban redevelopment gave him the opportunity to exercise his philosophy on a grand scale – and, more important, with a relatively clean slate.

1The Lovejoy Fountain is a beautiful example of Halprin’s aquatic work – varied elevations, expressive materials, dramatic contours, vigorous flows, wonderful sound. He’s a master of mood management, in this case surrounding the fountain’s rougher edges with plants and trees that soften its visual features and make the plaza more inviting. He’s also a master of the art of engagement, providing all sorts of ways for passersby to get up close to the water and interact with it on multiple levels (this despite the fact that there are signs warning against coming in contact with it).

In this case as with several of his other designs, the Lovejoy Fountain is also a brilliant performance space – no surprise given Halprin’s frequent collaborations with his wife, Anna, an accomplished performer who certainly encouraged him to look at public spaces as stages for dancers, backdrops for musicians and places for playful movement around the water. (One of the videos linked below put the fountain’s artistic flexibility on brilliant display.)

2The four spaces were designed between 1963 and 1970, with Lovejoy Plaza completed first, in 1966. Satoru Nishita served as partner-in-charge for the project after becoming a principal at Lawrence Halprin + Associates in 1964.

I like everything about this fountain, from its approachability to its reflection of nature and its debt to terrain I know well from my own time spent exploring the Columbia River Valley and the Sierra Nevada and Cascade ranges. It’s manifestly a composed, artificial space, but it operates on a level where, like a great abstract painting, it gives observers the chance to run free with their own interpretations and responses.

If you can’t tell by now, I’m a big fan of Mr. Halprin’s work. The next time you’re in the Great Northwest, spend an afternoon in downtown Portland and I think you’ll see why.

To see an odd 360-degree video of the Lovejoy Fountain, click here and be sure to use the effect. It takes a while to get down to business, but it’s worth the wait.

To see a video in which Lovejoy Fountain host an interactive art project, click here.

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