Texas Architect Sept/Oct 2008: Design Awards
Texas Architect is the official publication of the Texas Society of Architects, each edition features recently completed projects and other editorial content largely written by AIA members in Texas. That collective participation was the basis of Texas Architect’s recognition by the national AIA with a 2010 Institute Honor for Collaborative Achievement.
texas architect 9 / 10 2 0 0 8 12 News water Gardens Picked for 25-Year Award a u s t i n Having enthralled visitors since its opening in 1974, yet despite the grim fact that six people have died there in two harrow- ing accidents, Philip Johnson’s idyllic Fort Worth Water Gardens is recognized this year with the Texas Society of Architects’ 25-Year Award. The project notably instills the agitated urban landscape with a refreshing serenity at the south edge of downtown, on a formerly blighted site adjacent to the municipal conven- tion center. The annual award recognizes a project com- pleted at least 25 years earlier that exemplifies exquisite design and has maintained its original design integrity. This year’s panel of judges were Rick Archer, FAIA, current chair of the TSA Design Awards Committee; Chris Hudson, AIA, current president of TSA; Ronald Skaggs, FAIA, 2007 recipient of the TSA Lifetime Achievement Medal; Andrew Vernooy, AIA, dean of Texas Tech University’s College of Architecture; and Stephen Sharpe, editor of Texas Architect. The Fort Worth Water Gardens began in 1970 when philanthropist Ruth Carter Johnson, who more than a decade earlier had commissioned the renowned New York City architect (then practic- ing with Alan Ritchie) to design the Amon Carter Museum, hired him again (this time with John Burgee) to envision a civic ame- nity on a 4.3-acre site purchased by the Amon Carter Foundation. The daughter of the late multi- millionaire oilman Amon Carter wanted to present a gift to the people of Fort Worth. As documented by Frank D. Welch, FAIA, in his monograph from 2000, Philip Johnson & Texas, the architect’s client was under- whelmed when presented with a relatively staid scheme. He went back to work and produced a second concept that infused vertiginous tectonics with the mesmerizing drama of water in motion. “Ruth Johnson was thrilled with what she saw…,” Welch wrote. “Johnson’s plan for the Water Garden was a free, abstract composition of angular, shardlike polygons seeming to shift and slide past each other in a fixed pattern of kinetic movement. Three large irregular sections were planned for water features; the balance of the site given over to walkways lead- ing to a large ‘plaza’ and banks of platforms and tiers of retaining walls for trees and greenery in raised and sunken planes.” Philip Johnson’s detractors were less than thrilled when they saw one more instance of his taking liberties with another designer’s work—this time that of Lawrence Halprin, a landscape architect whose Lovejoy Fountain in Portland from 1968 bore more than a passing semblance to Johnson’s terraced plan for the Water Gardens. (Halprin also designed a maze- like plaza, replete with greenery and waterfalls, that was built at the opposite end of downtown Fort Worth and opened in 1976.) The public dedication of the Fort Worth Water Gardens took place on October 19, 1974, coinciding with the birthday of Ruth Carter Johnson. Among the dignitaries in attendance was Peter Blake, a noted architectural writer and publisher of the International Magazine of Architecture. According to the Fort Worth Star- Telegram, Blake likened the park to an “outdoor theater in which the people are the actors as well as the audience.” In the words of author Frank Welch, the “pièce de résistance” of the project was the Active Pool located on the east side of the Water Gar- dens’ plaza, where a “palpable sense of danger permeates this gorge of overlapping geometric plates, awash and rushing downward to a roil- ing sinkhole, which has to be the quintessential threat of architectural engulfment. Johnson’s often vaunted sense of portentous quality in architecture – exciting wonder and awe – is present here in spades. For the strong-hearted, a meandering series of blocky, freestanding steps, elevated above the water, descends the glistening ravine of rushing and flowing water, which disappears in gushes through a dentil- edged basin at the bottom. It is a design and psychological tour de force.” Unfortunately, the Active Pool also was where three children and one adult drowned on June 16, 2004. Witnesses said one child jumped or fell into the pool, which, due to the malfunc- tion of a recirculating pump and recent heavy rainfall, contained nine feet of water. When the three others tried to rescue the young victim, they all perished. Following the installation of safeguards and re-engineering the Active Pool to maintain a maximum depth of two feet of water, the park was reopened on March 4, 2007. According to the Dallas Morning News, the four victims’ families agreed to an out-of-court settle- ment in their lawsuit against the city. The newspaper reported that their lawsuits against the archi- tect, engineers, and other parties were unsuccessful. An earlier freak accident caused the death of two adults when an 80-foot light pole toppled in 1991 in high winds. Before selecting the Water Gardens for the award, the TSA jury considered the project’s his- tory. Following their discussion, the judges voted unanimously to recognize the Water Gardens with the 25-Year Award. [See “Editor’s Note” on p. 7 for an insider’s view of the jury’s discussion prior to that decision.] Stephen Sharpe Photo by Da rin n orm a n, a ia