Monday, April 9, 2012
Fort Worth Water Gardens are an oasis amid a concrete jungle
One of the architectural treasures of Fort Worth.
Fort Worth has many green spaces peppered across its landscape of cement and glass, and fortunately most of them are free for the offering. One of these is the Fort Worth Water Gardens, located in the middle of the downtown core. The contemporary park stands in stark contrast to its history. The area known as Hell’s Half Acre was notorious in Fort Worth’s early years for its brothels, gambling, and gunfights.
The refreshing oasis was a gift to the people of Fort Worth from the Amon Carter Foundation, and designed by Philip Johnson and John Burgee. Built in 1974, the futuristic park is best experienced first-hand because pictures just don’t do it justice. Although the expanse appears to be almost completely taken up by water and cement, the area also touts more than 500 species of plants and trees. In the hot days of summer, the Water Gardens offer heat-weary visitors a refreshing place to unwind.
Although swimming is definitely prohibited in the all of the pools located on the site’s 4.3 acre spread, the abundance of shade trees and cool misted air from the pools themselves will definitely help you cool down. It’s a great place to walk, relax, and think, with its three very distinct pools set amid an artistically designed urban landscape of tiered cement blocks, against the backdrop of Fort Worth’s towering skyscrapers. The entire park is a vital, moving piece of art.
Johnson, the architect for the project, took inspiration from the childhood literary classic Alice in Wonderland when designing the park, and nowhere is it more evident than when you go down the narrow stairs to the Quiet Pool. As you descend the staircase, you can’t help but feel larger than life, but as you reach the bottom, the space opens up. The pool is large, towered by bald Cyprus trees with the skyscrapers of Fort Worth for the backdrop. You feel as if you’ve entered a land of giants. Taking into account all of the ways a body experiences a space, the architects paid particular attention to the element of sound in its design, and its effect is tangible as one embraces the serene calmness of the park’s Quiet Pool, as a sheet of water cascades down the walls and enters the tranquil stillness of the pool.
The architects considered the Aerated Pool the most difficult, in terms of moving from vision to reality. The space, built 40 feet under ground, consists of forty evenly spaced fountains that continuously spout droplets of water that dance across the pool’s surface. The tiered blocks surrounding the pool offer many places to sit and watch the mesmerizing display.
The Active Pool will take your breath away the first time, and every time, it comes into view. Cascading waterfalls drop down 36 feet of the labyrinth’s tiered cement walls into a shallow pool below. The site sadly is also where a tragedy of epic proportions occurred in 2004 that resulted in four deaths. The city closed the park for an extended time until the adaptions could be made to the design to make it safer. Although the safety measures are significant, as a parent I would caution you to watch your young children carefully around the pool area, particularly as you descend the stairs down into the pool’s center.
The Water Gardens are one of the architectural treasures of Fort Worth. The list of reasons why a visit to the park is a must is a long one, but topping the list for me is that it’s free of charge, dynamic, and a great place in this busy city to relax and cool off on a hot day.
The Water Gardens are located adjacent to the Fort Worth Convention Center in the downtown core, between Commerce and Houston Streets. Pack a picnic lunch, a book you’ve been wanting to read, or someone special, and experience the serenity for yourself.
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