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Top 7 Favorite Fountains

There are a few hundred “famous fountains” that have transcended being local landmarks and have become part of our global pop culture. They are on the covers of travel books, in movies, people make pilgrimages to them, their symbolism is often key to the branding of their cities. Some of the fountains are big and some are small. Some are high tech computerized water expressions, and some are not. As a landscape and water feature designer, I have often wondered which fountains are the most favored, and why. So I created an online survey, to simply ask people, “What is your favorite fountain?”.

Detail of the survey: I posted a link to the online survey on Facebook and on a number of industry related forums on LinkedIn and Land8Lounge.  To my delight I got a number of responses (80+), but not everyone actually took the official survey. I received additional responses to the first question, “What is your favorite fountain?” via Tweets, emails, Facebook, etc. The question also sparked some lively discussions in several of the online forums. The survey was open to the public, but because of the places I posted it, the majority of the respondents were landscape architects, urban planners, architects and people in the water feature industry. I admit this is not the most scientific study, but I hope people find the results interesting and that it continues to generate a dialogue.

The drum roll please… here are the most favorite:


Location: Charleston, VA | Designer: Stuart O. Dawson,  Sasaki Associates with Edward Pinckney Associates | Year: 1990


Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau

Survey Comments:

  • “The pineapple represents the southern symbol of hospitality.” – survey response


Waterfront Park Charleston


Location: Irving, Texas | Designer: Robert Glen with SWA | Year: 1976-1984


Mustangs of Las Colinas

#05: The Dubai Fountain, Burj Khalifa

Location: Dubai, UAE | Designer: Andrea Silva, WET Design | Date: 2009


Survey Comments:

For sheer power and size, I’d go for the Dubai Fountain. It’s akin to three Bellagio’s side by side. And you can feel the throb (or is it a boom) every time it shoots its highest pulse/stream.” – R.F. Land8 forum

“The Burj fountain. Its dramatic movements, sounds, and powerful song selection gives a person chills when they watch it….. and its absolutely unforgettable!” – J.M. LinkedIn Fountain Design forum


The Dubai Fountain – Wikipedia

#04: Fort Worth Water Gardens, Fort Worth, Texas

Location: Fort Worth Convention Center | Designer: Phillip Johnson and John Burgee | Date: 1974



Fort Worth Water Garden – Wikipedia

#03: Paley Park, NYC

Location: Midtown Manhattan | Designer: Zion & Breene -  Landscape Architects | Date: 1967


Survey Comments:
This feature got a number of votes but no one commented on why they voted for it. I would speculate that people are primarily drawn to the sound of the water wall in Paley Park. What do you think?


Paley Park – Wikipedia

Paley Park – Yelp review

#02: The Fountains of the Bellagio

Location: Las Vegas | Designer: Claire Kahn Tuttle, WET Design | Date: 1997


Survey Comments:

Probably the one at the Bellagio. Yeah, I know I’m supposed to scoff at it as a landscape architect, but I love how it works!” – survey response


Fountains of the Bellagio – Wiki

Fountains of the Bellagio – Yelp

#01: Ira Keller Forecourt Fountain, Levi Plaza

Location: Portland. Oregon | Designer: Angela Danadjieva, Lawrence Halprin & Associates  | Date: 1970


Survey Comments:

The Lawerence Halprin fountain at Levi’s Plaza in San Francisco, for the look, sense of discovery it fosters, and especially the sound.” – L.R. LinkedIn ASLA forum

I’m a pretty big fan of Halprins ‘fountains’/water features. Too bad we really cant design places like those anymore thanks to initiatives like CPTED…d’oh!..forgot this is a fountains discussion.” – N. A. Land8 forum


Ira Keller Forecourt Fountain – Wikipedia

Ira Keller Forecourt Fountain >>

Thoughts + Observations

Historic Water Features:
I was surprised that all the top favorite fountains were under 45 years old. There were a number of historic fountains, such as Trevi, Villa d’Este, and Buckingham Fountain that received a few votes. But collectively they did not rank very high on the survey. Considering how well known and venerated they seem to be, I found it a bit surprising. It makes me want to investigate how people relate to historic water features in modern cities and how they may function differently as they get older.

Sculptural Fountains:
The Pineapple Fountain and the Mustangs of Las Colinas illustrate that sculptural water features continue to be popular with the public and highly iconic. I wasn’t personally familiar with the Pineapple Fountain before this survey. A Google search for the Pineapple Fountain brought up a surprising number of artist paintings depicting the fountain. You can even buy bookmarks depicting the Pineapple Fountain on Etsy. The symbolism of sculptural fountains is often regional, as is the case in both of these fountains.

Show Features:
No big surprise here. The results of the survey confirm that people love huge musical water features. The Fountains of the Bellagio and the Dubai Fountain got high points for their emotional impact, scale and strength. They offer a unique collective experience on a large scale. Sometimes criticized for using a lot of water, these fountains are a guilty pleasure for many people. I loved the comment from the landscape architect who said that he knows that he shouldn’t like the Fountains of the Bellagio but that he does anyway.

Also noteworthy, is that the Dubai Fountain is less than a year old and already ranked in the top 7. I have a hunch that only a huge musical fountain could enter our collective consciousness and become an international favorite so quickly.

Going into this, I wondered if one of the huge musical features would get the most votes. The answer was no. Remarkably a gravity fed waterscape in Portland got more votes than any other fountain in the world.  Admittedly a knock-out water feature, the Forecourt Fountain was described in 1970, as “One of the most important urban spaces since the Renaissance”.  Forecourt Fountain and the Fort Worth Water Garden, offer highly immersive, interactive experiences that are abstractions of how water works in the natural world. Waterscapes aren’t fountains to look at, but rather offer watery places to be.

The fact that Forecourt got so many votes indicates that an immersive experience can have the same kind of draw and fame as an iconic water feature. This should be encouraging to people trying to bring these types of experiences to their cities and projects. The challenge, as several people pointed out, is that it would be very difficult to build a water feature like Forecourt Fountain today due to safety and litigation concerns. Notably, the Fort Worth Water Garden has been redesigned to make it shallower after 4 people drown in 2004. While safety is a serious issue, there have been many successful interactive water features and waterscapes built in the last twenty years.

Personally, I think that we will see a lot more waterscapes built in cities in the coming decades. Globally people are being asked to make increased sacrifices regarding their personal water use  (i.e. use less water, don’t water lawns, don’t hose down your driveway, don’t fill your swimming pool, etc.) Urban waterscapes offer a public place for people of all ages to to come together around water communally. I speculate there will be more demand for these types of collective experience with water, when water inevitably becomes more expensive.

The survey also asked what special memories people associated with fountains and what they think the most famous fountain is in their city or country. I’ll discuss these topics in future blog posts.

+There were also a handful of interesting off-the-beaten-path fountains that people nominated. I’ll write more about them soon.

What is your favorite fountain? Why?

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