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”.

Perfect Harmony

In the toe of my wife’s Christmas stocking this year, I nestled a small gift to help her sleep. It’s a travel version of one of those sound machines, where you can dial up anything from rain to ocean waves to lull you off to Never Never Land. You can even mimic a waterfall, which would be my personal choice. After all, it’s the same sound the Kaufmann family enjoyed for years at their stunning retreat in the Pennsylvania forest, southeast of Pittsburgh. Seeing this famous house is an entry on my bucket list. Yes, one of these days I will make the trek to Fallingwater.

If you’re old enough to remember, “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing”, you know the song’s about more than just apple trees and honey bees.  It’s about “perfect harmony”, which is how anyone would describe Fallingwater.  This beautiful structure is exactly as named: a house on top of a waterfall.  It is considered one of architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s greatest achievements.  The design is a melding of interior and exterior spaces, a principle borrowed from the Japanese.  Fallingwater is a building, yes, but it’s more often described as “… harmony between man and nature”.

If you know anything about Wright, you know he was an eccentric architect.  When the Kaufmann’s called to stop by his studio for a progress report, Wright hadn’t even begun the drawings.  Yet by the time they arrived two hours later, Wright had completed the entire design.  This production under pressure reminds me of author Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, a novel written in just nine days and considered one of Bradbury’s greatest works.

The genius of Fallingwater’s design is in the details, or perhaps the lack of them.  The house is constructed of reinforced concrete, stone, and glass.  Its interior spaces are small and dark, encouraging more time spent outdoors.  The sound of water can be heard everywhere, whether from the stream and waterfall below or from the natural spring allowed to drip along one of the hallways.  Fallingwater’s distinctive cantilevered terraces are meant to resemble nearby rock formations, extending in every direction to the forested surroundings.  Its dramatic perch on top of the waterfall is hidden from the approach to the house, lending to a sense of modesty.

Fallingwater brings the outdoors in wherever possible, and its best example may be a ledge-shaped rock in the living room, left undisturbed in its original location.  The surrounding stone floor is waxed while the ledge is left plain and dull, creating the look of a rock protruding from a stream.  A stair descends from the same room, several steps down to a platform whose function is to simply admire the stream.  From photos, you’d believe Fallingwater was constructed entirely offsite and dropped gently within the forest by pushing aside a few tree branches.

Today, Fallingwater is a National Historic Landmark.  You can tour the house and grounds with the purchase of a ticket at the visitor’s information website.  If I were to visit, it’d be a ten-hour drive from where I live.  That’s not going to happen anytime soon.  Instead, I will build Fallingwater; literally.  It is a model in the LEGO Architecture series and I am lucky to own a copy.  As I tell my family, there are only two LEGO models I’ve ever wanted to build: the Grand Piano (completed last year and blogged about here), and Fallingwater.  It’s a new year and it’s time to get started.

I’ll bring you along for the ride as my miniature Fallingwater takes shape in my home office.  You can look for updates at the end of the next several posts.  Eight hundred pieces from now, when all is said and done, I may borrow that little sleep aid I gave my wife for Christmas.  After all, no house built on top of a waterfall would be complete without the sounds to go with it.  Remember, we’re talking (er, singing) about perfect harmony here.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Nature’s Constant Call

It wasn’t supposed to be this difficult.  Merely tweaking a former New Year’s resolution to create a new one should be the proverbial walk in the park.  But clearly, I wasn’t prepared for the, uh, “inconveniences” of my particular undertaking.  So it goes when you commit to drinking a dozen glasses of water a day instead of ten.

(Hey, give me a sec’… I’ll be right back.)

Are you a New Year’s resolution kinda person?  Do you sit down towards the end of the holidays and pen (or pencil, for you not-so-brave) a list of gonna-do’s for the coming year?  Me, I’m on the fence with the whole promises-promises thing.  Sure, turning the calendar from December to January evokes a fresh start; I’m just not convinced I must be “resolute” in the process.  I prefer casual, undocumented, safe-zone agreements.  Gonna eat better. Gonna get to the gym more. Gonna read a bunch of new books.  Whether I blow them out of the water or just achieve slightly better than last year, I win!

The water thing, though.  Why-oh-why did I read my latest fitness club newsletter and choose to drink their Kool-Aid?  (Wait, hang on… the phone’s ringing… it’s Nature again.)

Can you hear it? Does it make you want to…?

Forget the glittering generality of eight-glasses-per-day.  Not only is the rule passé, it holds no water.  Eight glasses is simply too generic for the myriad human bodies out there.  Ditto downing “half your weight in ounces of water” – too generic.  On the other hand, a pile of research and scientific evidence in my newsletter suggested the following: Men should consume 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) of fluids per day, while women should consume 11.5 cups (2.7 liters).

Now then, “fluids” includes all liquids swallowed in a day, so right away we have an appealing math problem.  Fluids from foods = 20% (just go with it), so my 15.5 cups instantly evaporate to 12.4.  A cup of coffee in the morning and a glass of wine in the evening can also be subtracted (don’t believe the dehydration claims – they don’t hold water).  However – and here we pause the calculator – I can’t escape the negative impacts of a) regular exercise (I sweat like a baby rainstorm), b) environment (Colorado = high altitude = dehydration), and c) breathing.  Those three moisture-robbers elevate me back to 12.4 cups.  Maybe I should stop breathing – that’s worth at least the 0.4 cup.

12 cups = 3/4 gallon

Ten cups a day – now that’s navigable waters in my book.  I start the morning with two (supposedly a good habit) as I wash down my multi-vitamin.  I drink another two mid-morning, another two at lunch, another two or three in the afternoon, and one at dinner.  But twelve cups?  How the heck do I jam another two into my schedule?  More importantly, where to I find the extra time to uh, um… (a little patience here, I need to talk to a man about a horse).

Time to get personal (as if we haven’t been already).  When I morphed from child to teenager to full-grown adult, my body parts grew accordingly, EXCEPT my bladder.  That little balloon remains the same size as when I was born – I’m sure of it.  The bladder is a remarkable organ, “capable of expanding from 2 to 6 inches with a capacity of 16 to 24 ounces”.  MY bladder is capable of expanding to 2 inches (a guess) with a capacity of 16 ounces (another guess).  And here’s the best part.  The urge to urinate comes when the bladder is one-quarter full. Whose idea of a cruel joke is THAT?  Do the math on me and I’m only halfway through cup #1 before I’m scheduling time with the porcelain goddess. Speaking of the goddess, uh… (hold tight while I go water the flowers).

About these down-the-hall interruptions: is it just me or does the sound of running water “accelerate” the process?  In my twelve-cups-a-day world, I continue to brush my teeth, make a cup of coffee, refill the dog bowl, refill the bedroom humidifier, and refill water bottles every time I go to the gym.  You’d better believe every one of those tasks has me wanting to go powder my nose – and I really don’t powder my nose if you know what I mean.  Gee whiz (for God’s sake, don’t say WHIZ!), can’t a guy catch a break that doesn’t have the word “bathroom” in front of it?

My fitness newsletter also claimed, “women who are pregnant or are breast-feeding need additional fluids to stay hydrated”.  Bless my stars, I am not a woman. But seriously, twelve cups?  I’ll be moving my laptop into another “office” in my house before I know it.  There’s more to say on this topic but it’s gonna have to wait because… (I need to make a pit stop).