Locations: SW Clay St & SW 3rd Ave, Portland, OR, 97201
CostL $12 million
Completion Date: 1970
Designed in 1970, the Ira Keller Fountain Park was the signature landscape architecture work that catapulted Lawrence Halprin to the forefront of international attention. New York Times architecture critic, Ada Louise Huxtable, dubbed the design “one of the most important urban spaces since the Renaissance.”
The last and northernmost component of Halprin’s Open Space Sequence, the Ira Keller Fountain was designed in conjunction with architect Angela Danadjieva. Like many of Halprin’s other works, the dramatic tiered fountain design with its dramatic 25-foot waterfalls is a geometrical abstraction of sublime nature scenes. 13,000 gallons of water per minute cascade through staggering concrete terraces and platforms, at once suggesting the tall mountain ranges of the High Sierras and the powerful waterfall cascades of the Northwest.
Originally called the Forecourt Fountain, the fountain was renamed in 1978 after Ira C. Keller (1899-1978), civic leader and first chairman of the Portland Development Commission. His efforts shepherded the South Auditorium Renewal project from conception to completion; it’s been said that “it was Keller’s enormous energy that made urban renewal work in Portland.” The park was also awarded the ASLA Centennial Mediallion in 1999.
I have very fond memories of this city landmark, particularly stumbling across it on a lunch break back in 2008. The water was turned on during the summer so I have seen the fountain in all it’s glory, framed by a dense, green canopy of trees. Ira Keller Fountain Park became my go-to lunch spot; my favorite thing to do would be to buy Indian food from the nearby food truck and eat atop one of the high terraces. Despite the sign forbidding wading, Halprin designed this space intending it to be interactive. Influenced by his wife, who was a dancer, he saw the series of concrete platforms rising above the sunken water pool as theatre sets for choreographing human movement. Despite the water being turned off in winter, I can still picture the park filled with rushing water and people precariously perched on its many ledges, playing in the water. This is one of my favorite pieces of landscape architecture.