Citygarden a Splashing Civic Success


Photo by Steve Hall@ HedrichBlessing


Hydro Dramatics Adds Water to Sculpture and Garden Creating a One-of-a-Kind Downtown Oasis in St. Louis


Taking the majestic geology of a landscape defined by the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers and using it as a template to engineer a downtown oasis of art, sculpture, water and garden that meshes seamlessly with the surrounding city environment is no easy task. Add in the fact that those behind the project desired an imaginative space that could appeal to people of all ages and backgrounds, serve as a catalyst for city growth, and still function efficiently with long-term reliability and that task becomes even more challenging. Such a project requires much planning, coordination and innovation. As Kerry Friedman, vice president and general manager of Hydro Dramatics, explains: “This type of challenge makes success more enjoyable. That’s why we at Hydro Dramatics share in the considerable civic pride generated by downtown St. Louis’ newest attraction: Citygarden.”


Citygarden stands as the only completely open and accessible public sculpture park situated in an urban setting in the United States. Friedman says that the 2.9-acre park, a lush stretch of plant life punctuated by sculpture, stone and water features, was created specifically for the city.


Citygarden, which opened to the public July 1, is the culmination of a partnership between the City of St. Louis and the non-profit St. Louis-based Gateway Foundation, an organization dedicated to the enrichment of life and culture in the city through outdoor art and urban design. The Gateway Foundation spent $25-$30 million for the design and construction of Citygarden, as well as an undisclosed sum for the sculptures.


The park, which spans two city blocks, remains open 365 days a year and is free to the public. The sculptures, which represent the works of 24 internationally known artists, range from modern and contemporary to figurative and abstract. In addition to being an urban park, Citygarden is also a botanical garden that weaves the natural elements of the St. Louis region into the multi-dimensional fabric of the park.


The design team responsible for bringing Citygarden to life — Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects (NBWLA) — was heavily influenced by the Mississippi and Missouri River systems of the St. Louis area. They envisioned the use of imaginative fountain areas that combined stone and water in a way that would not only emulate the region’s landscape, but also anchor the aesthetic experience of the garden itself. “Water is a primary focus of many of our design projects, and we wanted water to be central to everyone’s experience of Citygarden,” says Warren T. Byrd Jr., FASLA, principal at NBWLA. “We feel that much of Citygarden’s remarkable initial public acceptance is due to the success of its water displays. Hydro Dramatics’ work lies at the core of that success.”


Materializing this vision of Citygarden required the creation of three signature water fountains that creatively blend sight, sound and touch to appeal to all ages. To this end, Hydro Dramatics sought the best ways to use water to provide two contrasting types of ambiance: a cooling, active, splashing ‘playground’ on the one hand and a serene, reflective oasis in the midst of a busy city on the other. Using sophisticated computerization and the newest technology, fountain designers were able to create multi-faceted water features that balance active fun and passive relaxation in the midst of a beautiful sculptural garden. “Each of these water elements posed particular technical challenges—in calibrating water flows and volumes, in determining distinct water ‘effects,’ and in their accounting for day and night use. Hydro Dramatics was always up to those challenges, and often exceeded our high expectations,” says Byrd.


Three Unique Water Elements Encourage Participation, Contemplation


The first of the Citygarden fountains, which greets visitors at the main entry, is a dramatic water element highlighted by Igor Mitoraj’s “Eros Bendato,” a massive bronze sculpture that rests atop a disk of granite measuring 34 feet in diameter. A scrim of water sheets gently across and down the disk, providing a serene and cooling setting.


“To accomplish the desired effect, we designed a fitting that spanned the top of the granite disk that would allow a three-horsepower pump to distribute a low velocity of water across the entire surface of the disk, without creating an unsightly volume of water or allowing dirt particles and algae to collect and grow,” says Friedman. “At the bottom of the sculpture, the water disappears into a narrow concrete trough where it is filtered and successfully pumped back up to the slot in the disk. Our challenge was to create a slot large enough to do the job, yet small enough to comply with industry and ADA safety standards, as the sculpture, like all of the visitor-friendly sculptures in Citygarden, invites hands-on exploration. Our extensive efforts achieved the desired result and the water gently spills down the disk at a continuous rate, creating a nice shimmering effect.”


In addition, the success of this element also depended upon the installation of the granite, which required great precision and skill. Two St. Louis-based firms worked in tandem to make this possible: BSI Constructors, Inc. (Citygarden general contractor) laid the massive concrete base in preparation for a two-inch bed of mortar followed by the meticulous installation of the granite by Leonard Masonry, Inc.


Photo by Steve Hall@ HedrichBlessing


The Split-Level Basin–A Contradiction of Sharp Edges and Smooth Water


The second water element is a split-level, 180-foot-long, 20-foot-wide, and 16-inch-deep basin constructed within the framework of an arcing Missouri limestone wall that replicates the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River. Situated in the next city block of Citygarden and embedded in the limestone wall is a state-of-the-art, ten-foot video screen that displays video art and, occasionally, movies. On opening day, it offered a 10-minute time-lapse video that captured the construction process over the past 13 months, and gave visitors a chance to watch the garden unfold and come to life.


As for the two basins, the upper level, which is situated next to a striking indoor and outdoor glass pavilion café, features a tranquil pool of water that surrounds “La Riviere,” a female nude in bronze by artist Aristide Maillol. This upper basin connects to the lower basin by way of a dramatic waterfall that cascades over a 40-foot-wide angled break in the limestone wall. This design presented numerous challenges.


The designers requested that the water in the upper basin be kept smooth to make it as reflective as possible to highlight the sculpture. Says Friedman: “It was particularly challenging to get the proper amount of spacing inlets to not disrupt the surface of the water, but also to keep everything flowing to achieve the perfect cascade for the waterfall. Additionally, this spectacular flow of water was designed to feed into a still pool below. To accomplish this, we relied on a 20-horsepower pump to power the basin and carefully spaced water inlets and outlets. Not only is the result functional and dramatic, it adds to the ambiance with both sight and sound, muffling street traffic.”


As with all of the Citygarden water features, the water in the split basin is filtered, treated and recirculated. And, although the water is heated so that the water feature can remain operational well into the colder months, a special thermal device will shut off the fountain automatically and the water will also be drained automatically when the temperature reaches near the freezing mark.


A ‘Spray-of-the-Art’ Splash Plaza


The third water element comprises one of the largest interactive “play fountains” in the United States. This state-of-the-art spray plaza, where children and the young-at-heart can play, features 102 vertical water jets—also marking the largest collection of jets in any spray area in the nation. Hardly lifeless or predictable, these dynamic jets pulsate in ever-changing patterns along a 120-foot by 36-foot plaza paved with slip-resistant bluestone pavers from Pennsylvania and can shoot as high as six feet in the air. With the capacity to perform up to 1,200 different water sequences, which can be programmed and monitored on site, these jets capture the lively diversity and excitement inherent in the urban experience.


Functionally, the jets are pre-programmed by an anemometer that adjusts the height of the jets according to wind velocity. Instead of a draining pool located beneath the bluestone pavers, all of the water jetted into the plaza is piped directly to a reservoir and then sent to a vault where it is treated chemically with chlorination and ultraviolet sterilization and recirculated.


According to Friedman, a primary challenge for this element was to design a multi-use, custom square stainless steel nozzle—with each one built into a stainless steel canister that also serves as a water drain and each unit incorporating two LED lights inset into the nozzle and protected by an acrylic lid. The square nozzle was in keeping with the plaza’s linear design, but also had a practical and economical application—it saved installation crews the labor-intensive task of carving circular patterns into the bluestone pavers to accommodate an industry standard round nozzle. This multipurpose nozzle design also allows the spray to jet out, flow back and be diverted by gravity into the reservoir. Franklin Mechanical, Inc. and B.E. Scaife Plumbing Co. of St. Louis performed the expert installation. Visitors to the splash plaza are unaware of what lies underneath—a complex, crisscross labyrinth of more than 20 miles of mechanical and electrical conduits.


Each jet of water is lit by two LED lights that display a kaleidoscopic rainbow of hues each night. The LED lights are controlled by an on-site computer that is located in a subterranean vault designed, remotely monitored and maintained by Hydro Dramatics. The lighting programs are stored on an I-player and a DMX data signal turns the lights on—a process similar to theatrical lighting.


Additional challenges included locating all of the power supplies for the LED lights which are required to be located only a short distance from their power supply. There are seven different power supply locations and each power supply is rated to accommodate 14 lights. A signal changes the light color and has the capacity to create any color and shade in the full color spectrum.


Photo by Steve Hall@ HedrichBlessing


A Placid Space


In addition to Citygarden’s three signature water features, a fourth fountain, cut into the splash plaza, presented another challenge. In contrast to the lively fun offered by the playful jets of the plaza, this balancing element offers the contemplative visitor a serene pool containing a small, thoughtful bronze sculpture of a man in a boat entitled “The Voyage,” by Jean-Michel Folon. Warren Byrd and his colleagues at NBWLA — Sara Myhre and Breck Gastinger — had observed the patterns of how a river naturally ebbs and flows and wanted to bring that aspect of water’s fluctuating rhythm to this element so that the sculpture would appear to be floating. “Our challenge was to replicate water eddies and flow as would naturally be found in a quiet river cove. To achieve this, we designed special fittings that break the surface tension of the water and used a low horsepower pump,” says Friedman.


An Eco-Friendly Success Attained on a Tight Schedule


“It’s also worth noting that since this project represents the harmony between man and nature, everything needed to be eco-friendly,” Friedman says. “Everyone involved was up to the task and this environmental consciousness is evident in the design of Citygarden’s fountains. The lighting uses energy-saving LED technology and water is recirculated as much as possible. Additionally, the spray plaza water flows into an underground reservoir where it is filtered and cleaned with computer-controlled equipment that minimizes the use of chemicals.”


The biggest challenge for all of the participants, according to Friedman, was meeting the tight completion schedule. The three subterranean mechanical vaults for the fountains, which required the largest lead time from the manufacturer, were installed around the planting of more than 235 trees comprised of 20 different species, all of which required extensive truck access to the area. “As you can imagine, this required serious logistical management but through the cooperation and diligence of everyone involved we were able to complete this project on time,” he says.


Warren Byrd notes that “Hydro Dramatics proved to be an outstanding and essential collaborator in helping us and the Gateway Foundation realize our vision for the water elements in this dynamic sculpture park. To put it in the most direct terms, Hydro Dramatics was always up to the challenge of making a design idea come to life.”


The success of the project has been particularly satisfying to the fountain consultants at Hydro Dramatics. As Friedman puts it: “In the end, we are more than thrilled with the outcome. This project represents a large collaboration of work by many artisans, contractors and specialty contractors. The response that Citygarden has received—locally and nationally—has been both exciting and humbling.”