The Mall fountain, a bit of advocacy journalism

Wrote an article for the Hook about the disuse of the “interactive” water fountains on the Mall. It was unusual for me in that I wasn’t just writing about something happening, I was writing about something that I thought ought to happen.

Fountainblue: Who’ll revive our Mall fountains?

Can you place the four interactive water fountains on the Downtown Mall? Don’t feel bad if you can’t place them all. Three are usually hidden, surrounded by the outdoor seating at Miller’s, Sal’s and The Nook restaurants, and all four have strayed so far from their designer’s original intention that one local architect says the biggest one– at Central Place– has become “a kind of dead zone.”

According to several local architects, that’s not what renowned landscape architect Lawrence Halprin had in mind when he designed the Downtown Mall in the 1970s. Indeed, Halprin– now 90 and living in San Francisco– is famous for the integration of interactive fountains in his public space projects, most notably his Auditorium Forecourt Fountain in Portland, Oregon, a complex of falls and water shoots that invite people in to splash around. Here on the Mall, Halprin’s invite has been thwarted by restaurants co-opting the space around the fountains and general disuse, not to mention a thick “keep out” chain that was installed around the Central Place fountain.

Although Halprin couldn’t be reached before press time, UVA landscape architecture professor Beth Meyer agrees that his original idea for the fountains has been derailed.

Halprin, says Meyer–a specialist in 20th Century public landscapes–designed several significant American urban spaces, such as San Francisco’s Ghirardelli Square, Portland, Oregon’s Auditorium Forecourt and Lovejoy Plaza, Seattle’s Freeway Park, and, of course, our Downtown Mall. “All of these spaces had fountains and pools that invited participation,” says Meyer. “From sitting on or stepping into a basin to jumping from stone to stone across a pool and immersing oneself in a waterfall.” In addition, Meyer says the Downtown Mall is one of Halprin’s finest works. “It is one of a few places in the United States where a pedestrian street has worked economically and socially,” she says. ” Granted, it has benefited from a populace that has valued it and cared for it even when it was not yet economically vital.”

Meyer, who spoke to Halprin about his Charlottesville work some years ago, says he did have plans for a large participatory fountain plaza at the east end of the Mall where the amphitheater went up, but the scheme was too costly for the City.

“But they did include the small fountain at Central Place,” she says. ” I first saw the Mall in the mid 1970s. The fountain was on, the basin full, and there were families gathered around it. When I moved here to teach in 1993, the fountain was not chained. The water was not always on, but when it was, it attracted people.” More

5 responses to “The Mall fountain, a bit of advocacy journalism”

  1. […] Now! with Coy Barefoot, McNair talks about the privatization of the downtown mall, and what has caused the fountains to become defunct. Would they be too dangerous? Should we take the risk? Leave a comment, and let us know what you […]

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