Posted by: wadahp | November 4, 2009



The recent death of famous landscape architect Lawrence Halprin has received widespread notice across the nation. While practicing much of his career in the San Francisco Bay area, his work spanned the globe including the northwest with important examples executed in Washington and Oregon. Most familiar to Washingtonians would be Freeway Park in Seattle and the Washington Water Power (now Avista) Corporation headquarters campus in Spokane. Perhaps not as well known is his Water Garden fountain installed at the East Capitol Campus in Olympia in 1972. For those familiar with his work, the Water Garden would be easy to identify as bearing Halprin’s design signature and is reminiscent of the later Freeway Park (1976) and his fountain installations in downtown Portland (1965).

Since the 1970’s, like many examples of properties from the recent past, or “familiar past”, the Water Garden fell into disuse and disrepair because of leaks and changing design trends. As a result, the water was eventually turned off and the surrounding pedestrian plaza often seemed desolate.

In anticipation of a major re-design of the East Capitol Campus, in 2004 the State Department of General Administration (GA) commissioned the Department of Archaeology & Historic Preservation (then Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation) and the Washington State Arts Commission to evaluate the Water Garden to assess its architectural, artistic, and historic merit plus make recommendations regarding its repair and long-term preservation. The report was authored by former DAHP employee Donovan Gray who, in fulfillment of the commission, personally interviewed the colorful Halprin at his home in the Bay Area suburbs. The report provides detailed analysis of the Water Garden and its design derivations, but is also a good overview of Halprin’s background, career, and his other installations. It is also a good read that provides a glimpse into 1960s era politics and decision making processes surrounding government sponsored art and design. Not to be missed in the appendix are the results of a survey that was conducted of nearby office workers and neighborhood residents to obtain their personal opinion of, and interaction with, the Water Garden. For the record, a large majority of those who responded to the survey liked the fountain and favored preservation.

Following completion of the study, then GA Director Rob Fukai, decided to retain the Water Garden. While the Water Garden remains within the redesigned East Capitol Campus, the flow of water over and around its sculptured concrete forms has not been restored. Nevertheless, it is a positive signal for historic preservation that this important example of modernist landscape architecture has not suffered from alteration or removal that faces other reminders of the recent past.


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