Water Works

Like outdoor sculpture and monuments, fountains add beauty to a city. But these forms of liquid architecture have an added benefit: They appeal not just to our sense of sight, but to our sense of sound. Go with the flow


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Some grand fountains produce shimmering plumes of water shooting into the air. Less ostentatious ones may generate just a gentle cascade. But their effect is the same: The sound of rushing water is at once enlivening and soothing. In addition to their beauty, fountains also serve as people magnets, drawing crowds especially in summer, when a cooling spray of mist is as refreshing as a tumbler of lemonade. The more romantic among us might also toss a coin or two into the fountain and make a wish.

 

James Scott Fountain

Belle Isle, Detroit

Designed by architect Cass Gilbert (also responsible for the Main Detroit Public Library), with assistance from sculptor Herbert Adams, the majestic white marble James Scott Fountain on Belle Isle was completed in 1925. It was donated by Scott, a controversial real-estate investor who stipulated that a bronze statue of him be built facing the fountain. A series of terraced basins distinguish the work, as do lions, turtles, and dolphins that spout water, as does a head of Neptune, the Roman god of the sea. The fountain also included Pewabic Pottery tile around the border of the reflecting pool. Alas, most of the tiles were destroyed during a 2010 restoration, but the Belle Isle Conservancy spearheaded a fundraising drive to replace them. The fountain appeared in the 1973 film Scarecrow.

 


 

Henry Ford Centennial Library Fountain

Dearborn

The jets of water in front of the Henry Ford Centennial Library in Dearborn, which become illuminated with color at night, has been greeting visitors since it was installed in 1969. But the marble fountain’s future is uncertain. The motor broke in August 2011 (this photograph was taken the previous month), and there are other expensive repairs needed. At press time, city officials were discussing alternatives to fixing it, including replacing it with a smaller fountain and dismantling it in favor of a memorial garden.

 


 

Kellogg Park Fountain

Plymouth

Attracting scores of people in clement weather, this concrete fountain constructed in 1968 is the centerpiece of Kellogg Park in winsome downtown Plymouth. The city takes advantage of the setting by hosting Music in the Air and Art in the Park during the summer, and the Plymouth Fall Festival. The fountain has more personal associations, too. “People love having their pictures taken in front of the fountains for weddings or first dates,” says Stave Faiman, Plymouth’s assistant director of municipal services. “It’s a milestone in the city.”

 


 

Woodward Fountain

Campus Martius Park, Detroit

With 100 water jets, some capable of ascending 100 feet into the air, the granite Woodward Fountain at Campus Martius Park downtown is a natural gathering place for curious visitors, office workers enjoying an al fresco lunch, and outdoor concertgoers. Reminiscent of an old-fashioned town square, Campus Martius is a refreshing slice of greenery in the concrete jungle. The fountain made its splashy debut in 2004.

 


 

Horace E. Dodge and Son Memorial Fountain

Hart Plaza, downtown Detroit

Sometimes it’s called the Noguchi Fountain, named for its designer, Isamu Noguchi, and other times Detroiters call it the Dodge Fountain; technically, it’s the Horace E. Dodge and Son Memorial Fountain. Whatever the appellation, this 1979 modern stainless-steel structure is the centerpiece of Hart Plaza downtown, the approximate site where Cadillac landed when he came to Detroit in 1701. Two legs support a ring 30 feet high over a black granite pool. The fountain, funded by Anna Thomson Dodge in memory of her husband and her son, has approximately 300 jets and 300 lights.

 


 

 

Star Dream

Royal Oak

Designed by sculptor Marshall Fredericks (1908-1998), the 40-foot-high Star Dream fountain in Royal Oak was dedicated in 1997 when the sculptor was 89. Visitors to that city’s library often gaze rapturously at the two giant nude bronze figures before it: a man holding a woman aloft, with a cluster of stars situated above the basin. In May 2012, the fountain was cleaned and waxed, lending a fresh patina to the work. Fredericks is best known, locally at least, for his Spirit of Detroit downtown. However, it’s only appropriate that Royal Oak should also have a Fredericks work, because one of the sculptor’s studios (he had another in Bloomfield Hills) was in that city on Woodward, which has been demolished.

 


 

GM Tech Center Fountain

Warren

With great plumes of water shooting to the sky, the GM Tech Center Fountain in Warren was designed by the notable American sculptor Alexander Calder. Eero Saarinen, who designed the Tech Center with Smith, Hinchman, and Grylls, commissioned Calder to construct the work in 1952. Although the fountain is rarely referred to as such, it does have a name with which Calder christened it: Water Ballet. It was dedicated May 15, 1956.

 


 

Horace Rackham Memorial  Fountain

Roayl Oak

With great plumes of water shooting to the sky, the GM Tech Center Fountain in Warren was designed by the notable American sculptor Alexander Calder. Eero Saarinen, who designed the Tech Center with Smith, Hinchman, and Grylls, commissioned Calder to construct the work in 1952. Although the fountain is rarely referred to as such, it does have a name with which Calder christened it: Water Ballet. It was dedicated May 15, 1956.

 


 

Orpheus Fountain

Cranbrook, Bloomfield Hills

In 1937, Swedish sculptor Carl Milles completed his Orpheus fountain at Cranbrook in Bloomfield Hills, which is situated in front of the peristyle. A replica of a fountain Milles designed for the outside of the Concert Hall in Stockholm, the Cranbrook work depicts eight bronze figures reacting to the mesmerizing music created by Orpheus, the mythological Greek figure whose lyre charmed all who heard it. The original sculpture also contains a figure of Orpheus, but George Booth, who founded Cranbrook with his wife, Ellen Scripps Booth, believed the domineering presence of the central figure would detract from the mood of the piece. The figures look as if they are awakening from a dream, responding to the intoxicating music, and the sound of cascading water only adds to the overall enchantment of the work.

 


 

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