Instead of dreading the thought of sloshing through eight feet of frozen sludge on your way home tonight, let's think ahead to summer, when we'll actually want to feel ice cold water against our faces—in some of our cities' best fountains.
The idea of the swimmable urban fountain used to be the exclusive realm of drunken coeds and errant toddlers. But some cities have decided to embrace the idea that people actually do want to put themselves in those tempting crystal clear bodies of water. Now, sanitation systems as sophisticated as the ones in pools have become part of urban fountain infrastructure, meaning it's (usually) okay for anyone to dip their toes (or entire bodies) in for a spell. Many fountains are also able to reclaim and reuse water, making them an economic and sustainable choice over other chlorinated basins. With city budgets squeezed and droughts striking the country, we might be seeing the "municipal fountain" take the place of the "municipal pool."
Here are some water features that provide a truly refreshing fountain experience. Summer can't come soon enough.
An aging midcentury fountain between two civic buildings was rescued and revitalized by designers Rios Clementi Hale as part of L.A.'s Grand Park, where it has become the centerpiece of the city's newest public space. The splash pad has hosted performances by dancers wearing wetsuits, and during most warm afternoons it's filled with kids who treat the area as an urban beach. At night, lighting turns the fountain into a neon-hued show.
In the city's Millennium Park, the Crown Fountain functions as a gathering place, a kid's play area, and an interactive sculpture. Artist Jaume Plensa placed two giant LED screens inside glass-bricked monoliths that face each other across a wide plaza. The screens display images of 1,000 different Chicagoans, who smile at first, then pucker their lips to reveal a stream of water that "spits" into the granite pool. Meant to evoke ancient fountains with water emitting from the mouths of deities, this one is a whole lot more fun.
The gorgeous, shallow pool that's situated in the middle of the Edward Durell Stone-designed campus is the social center of the college. It's currently undergoing a massive renovation (that's a rendering above) to repair the water tower and become more accessible to students, who treat it like a country club whenever temperatures rise. A dip in the waters was part of an annual ritual named Fountain Day, which celebrates the fountain being turned back on after the winter, though the tradition was suspended in 2011.
The Forecourt Fountain in Portland's Keller Fountain Park was designed in 1970 by Angela Danadjieva, a designer at Lawrence Halprin & Associates. It quickly became known one of the most beloved public spaces in the country, with critic Ada Louise Huxtable saying it "may be one of the most important urban spaces since the Renaissance." People are allowed to climb on top of the 25-foot walls and wade in the pools below (jumping between the two is not recommended).
The playground at Brooklyn Bridge Park is one of the best on the planet, and this "fountain" is more than just a water wonderland—it serves as a science center for local kids, who can splash around the jets and chutes as they learn about nature and physics. The complex was designed by Michael Van Valkenburg and Associates, which also designed the surrounding park.
Do you know of a swimmable fountain near you? Drop a photo and description in the comments.