“Mr. Halprin is onto something that makes the conventional piece of modern sculpture plonked onto the conventional corporate or public plaza look obsolete.” – Ada Louise Huxtable, New York Times, 1970
On a sunny June day in 1970, New York Times architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable witnessed the opening of what she called “one of the most important urban spaces since the Renaissance” – in Portland, Oregon. The place was Forecourt Fountain, a 13,000-gallon-per-minute cascade of water the likes of which no city had seen before. The time was a critical moment when our downtown was teetering on the brink of the final slide toward the desolation suffered by many American cities of the era.
Only days before, Huxtable, then America’s leading voice on architecture and urbanism, challenged Portland to rise to its potential for a “dreamworld urbanism” of a city nestled in nature. She warned against the “scattered, bomb-site” parking lots then covering over half of downtown and the growing collection of “chamber-of-commerce-look” towers. Against a skyline of “Suave Schlock” like the then-newly christened 536-foot-high First National Bank tower, a natural wonder even as powerful a Mount Hood, she wrote, “doesn’t’ stand a chance.”
But in Forecourt’s powerful concrete allusions to the stout columns of basalt and its spectacular flows of water, Huxtable saw a civic savior, a new kind “people park” that echoed Baroque masterpieces such as Rome’s Trevi Fountain and Piazza Navona” yet with a “geometric naturalism” befitting its region.
Never one for hyperbole, Huxtable’s optimism proved well-placed. As the final in a sequence of four fountain plazas Halprin designed for Portland, Forecourt (later renamed Ira Keller) Fountain, indeed, marked the beginning of renaissance – for both downtown Portland and American public space.
This website tells the story of how Halprin’s fountains came to be, the impact they had on the city, and what we can do, together, to celebrate and preserve their legacy.