Get Your Feet Wet!

I love urban plazas where water jets through an array of holes at ground level, creating fountains and arcs at random. Watching kids run and play in the midst of these unpredictable showers brings a smile. It’s also a creative way to cool off. Down in Texas, where it always seems to be hot, they’ve created an entire garden of water, where you can get your feet wet in all sorts of ways. Welcome to Fort Worth’s Water Gardens.

Fort Worth Water Gardens

Maybe you don’t think of an outdoor venue as “architecture” but the fact is you don’t need walls and a ceiling to define space.  The Water Gardens are a perfect example.  This city block oasis pops up (er, down), unexpectedly as you pass through the urban grid of Fort Worth.  Most of the park is hidden below street level but you can’t miss the rising mist and symphony of moving water.  It’s a celebration of sorts, urging you to join in on the fun.  The few photos I share here don’t begin to do it justice.

The Water Gardens challenge my logical brain because there’s no rhyme or reason to their haphazard design.  Maybe that’s the point.  Wander, gaze, and “soak in” their five acres.  The Gardens are a multi-faceted experience of water.  Phillip Johnson (one of America’s foremost architects), and John Burgee (a graduate of my own university) designed the Water Gardens to include “… pathways, wayside stops, events, and hideaways to draw out the experience, to convey more of the sense of a Central Park… than its limited acreage would’ve suggested possible.”  That may be saying a lot about a little, but consider the Gardens’ offerings:

Quiet Pool

The “Quiet Pool” sits at the base of twenty-foot walls.  Water descends almost silently down the stone from a trough above.  Deep in the Gardens by the pool itself, you’re so far below ground level it’s as if the city has somehow been relocated far, far away.

Aerated Pool

The “Aerated Pool” is a nod to the water jets I mentioned above.  Forty nozzles create an “orchard” of water in this smaller pool, the tops of the “trees” reaching back to the ground level of the city above.

The “Mountain” is a series of stepped concrete terraces, descending to a corner of the park removed from the water elements.  Sitting on the Mountain is almost like being blindfolded.  You can hear the rush of the Water Gardens nearby; you just can’t see them.

Active Pool. Watch your step!

The “Active Pool” is the largest and most distinctive feature of the Water Gardens, literally a canyon through which the water streams and falls, terminating in a pool thirty-eight feet below the ground.  A series of open steps dares you to descend through the water from top to bottom (check out this video for a sense of the experience).  The Active Pool gained notoriety in the final scene of the movie Logan’s Run, as the inhabitants of the dystopian city climb into the outdoors for the very first time.

The major elements of the Water Gardens are tied together by a central plaza, where you can experience everything from one location.  But to do so would betray the Gardens’ intent.  They’re meant to be a moving experience, much as the water itself rushes, mists, and pools throughout.

Architecture is structured, while landscape is unstructured.  Blend the two and the result can be unlike anything you’ve seen before.  The Water Gardens beckon you to escape, to wander, to contemplate, and most importantly, to get your feet wet.  Will you accept their invitation?

Now for the latest on LEGO Fallingwater…

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LEGO Fallingwater – Update #2  (Read how this project started in Perfect Harmony)

The instruction manual for LEGO Fallingwater includes about ninety pages for the assembly, so I figured I’d divide the build into nine equal parts.  In the spirit of today’s topic, I proceeded to “dive in”.

Heaven help me.

You see, the 3,000+ pieces of the LEGO Grand Piano were separated into twenty-one numbered bags.  Build one bag at a time – easy-peasy.  On the other hand, the 800+ pieces of the LEGO Fallingwater model are separated arbitrarily into nine bags, with no indication of what piece is where.  It’s like opening a jigsaw puzzle and realizing every piece looks almost exactly the same.

This scene is even scarier when you click to zoom in…

I took a photo of my desk so you could see how much chaos I created on my first day.  Did I open all nine bags in search of pieces?  Yes, I did.  Did I consider just dumping all of the pieces into a big pile so I could search in one place? Yes (but I was afraid there was good reason they’re separated into nine bags).  Did I build part of the model wrong and have to backtrack?  Absolutely (and thank goodness for that little orange wrench you see next to the scissors.  It came with the LEGO Grand Piano and unsnaps pieces that are snapped together incorrectly).

Ten pages (or 11%, or 49 minutes) into the build, this is what we have.  We’re looking at Fallingwater from the same angle as the photo above, only all we’ve got is the lowest perimeter foundation wall and a spill of waterfall and creek emerging from the front corner.  Not very exciting.  Tune in next Thursday as the construction continues.  Now for another nod to Frank Lloyd Wright…

Romeo and Juliet Windmill

For all of his famous residential and commercial projects, Frank Lloyd Wright had plenty of lesser-known designs, such as the Romeo and Juliet Windmill in Wyoming, WI.  The tower was commissioned by Wright’s aunts, to pump water to a nearby school where they taught.  You might describe its shingle-clad look as quaint but in fact, the design is intentional.  The taller piece in the rear (“Romeo”) serves as structural support to counter the prevailing winds of the area.  Romeo also contains the mechanics of the windmill and water pump.  The cupola-topped octagonal piece in front (“Juliet”) is largely ornamental and softens the look of the tower when observed from further down the hillside.  Neither part of the tower can really stand on its own, hence the name “Romeo and Juliet”.

Some content sourced from the website for Fort Worth Parks and Trails, and from Johnson/Burgee: Architecture, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Mass Distraction

Hundreds (if not thousands) of bloggers commented on last weekend’s tragic events in El Paso and Dayton. A search of either city on the WordPress website produces an endless list of posts. As it should be. Some of us process by writing; others by reading. Within these countless perspectives are paragraphs to help us cope, reflect, heal, and begin to move on. Not that we should move on; not at all. Like 9/11, the loss of life is meaningless if it doesn’t lead to a modicum of positive change.

Politicians will debate this issue relentlessly; their credibility questionable in concert with partisan agendas and unrealistic campaign promises. The media will focus on band-aid suggestions which appear to address the issue but don’t land anywhere close to its foundations. Regardless, if all this attention – misguided as it may be – leads to constructive conversation and heightened awareness, we’re taking a step in the right direction. The capacity for mass murder is far more complicated than we want to admit.

I tried several times this week to blog as normal. I found the usual du jour topics worth delving into. Yet every time I started typing I was distracted, for at least a couple of reasons. One, any topic besides this one would be utterly trivial by comparison. Two, any topic besides this one suggests my head – and my heart – are not where they should be.

Do I know anyone in El Paso? No, I don’t, nor in Dayton. Doesn’t matter. I still grieve for the victims and their families. After all, these are fellow countrymen and women. These are people I believe share similar values and a love of country, regardless of race, political persuasion, and all the other so-called differentiators. These are people I’d be delighted to run into if I were halfway around the world. They are far from strangers.

American flags fly at half-staff this week, as if our country needs a reminder of a horrific behavior already ingrained in our culture for decades. My own reminder is my inability to adequately express my myriad feelings today. Perhaps the writings of my fellow bloggers will bring me solace.

Speaking of other writers, my thanks to Feeding On Folly, who re-posted Mitch Teemley’s “The 32 Second Killing Spree” (read it here). Mitch’s post narrows the issue to the specifics we need to consider and the questions we must answer. Here’s one answer. Good and evil will always coexist, but we have to find a way to tip the scales a little more towards the good. If only for them.

I’ll be back next week, less troubled and a little more hopeful. At least, that’s the plan.

American Pastime

Over the next three months, on any given Saturday, the spotlight of college athletics will shine brightly on football. Millions of fans will flock to stadiums (or in one instance, a motor speedway) to witness this most American of sports. Tailgate parties will crop up hours before kickoff.  Team-branded merchandise will fly off shelves to the tune of millions of dollars.  Broadcasters will endlessly debate one team’s merits versus another’s shortcomings.  It’s fair to say college football will be a more consuming topic than the presidential election.

60-indelible

Last weekend my family and I experienced the unique opportunity to attend two college football games in Texas on consecutive days. UCLA played Texas A&M in College Station on Saturday, where A&M’s Aggies won in thrilling fashion in overtime. Then Notre Dame played Texas in Austin on Sunday, where UT’s Longhorns also won in thrilling fashion in double overtime. On Friday we could’ve added yet another game, passing through Waco as Baylor opened its season against Northwestern State.

Here are a few college football statistics for your consideration:

  • There are well over 100 NCAA Division 1 college football teams competing on any given Saturday of the season.
  • The combined attendance to last weekend’s games involving at least one team in the Associated Press (AP) Top 25 was over 1.5 million fans. That included UCLA-Texas A&M (100,443) and Notre Dame-Texas (102,315 – an all-time record for a Texas home game).
  • The face value of a major college football game ticket is around $100 this year.  Accordingly last Saturday’s AP Top 25 games alone generated $150 million (not counting merchandise, concessions, and parking).
  • There are eight college football stadiums in the U.S. with more than 100,000 seats, and another twenty-two stadiums with more than 75,000 seats.  The largest NFL football stadium has 82,500 seats.
  • Next Saturday’s college football game between Tennessee and Virginia Tech will be held at Bristol Motor Speedway (TN).  The 150,000 fans expected in the grandstands will shatter the all-time record for college football single-game attendance.

Sure, college football has some impressive numbers.  The game will only get more popular.  Yet last weekend also reminded me there are more indelible memories than the game or the venue itself.  Consider:

  • The heart-warming spirit of hometown Texas A&M.  As a fan of the opposing team, the reception in College Station is akin to a stranger inviting you into his living room for sweet tea and cookies.  I lost track of how many Aggies welcomed us to campus, wished our team well, or simply thanked us for making the trip.  Their politeness is downright 1950’s-sitcom.  With that in mind, add See a football game in College Station to your bucket list.
  • A&M’s Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band.  Also known as the Corps of Cadets, the four hundred musicians comprise the largest military marching band in the world.  Their movements are so coordinated and precise you’d swear you were looking at a computer-generated equivalent.  One Aggie actually apologized to me for the “old-fashioned” feel of the Corp.  On the contrary; it was one of the most impressive halftime shows I’ve ever seen.
  • The Littlest Fans.  Texas A&M and Texas alike draw a healthy number of families to their games.  My favorites are the little ones: those fans between the ages of 5 and 15.  They’re decked out in their team colors and face paint, with shiny hair ribbons and pom-poms.  We had several of them sitting right in front of us at the Notre Dame-Texas game.  Their innocence and unabashed enthusiasm were priceless.

My advice after my mega-weekend of college football?  Ditch the television.  GO to a game and see what you’re missing.  There happens to be one this Saturday, and not far from where you live.