Ira Keller Fountain

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Portland, OR
United States
Ira Keller Fountain

A product of urban renewal, this massive land clearing project was realized with $12 million in federal funds targeted for the South Auditorium District. Named after the Civic Auditorium abutting its northern edge, this park in Portland’s “city within a city” was not originally part of the Open-Space Sequence planned by Lawrence Halprin and Associates. But, because of the popularity of these other interconnected spaces, Halprin was brought back by Portland Development Commission Chairman Ira Keller. This time, working with Angela Danadjieva, Halprin designed a park that solved the site’s complex grades with a powerful urban waterfall. Collectively, the Forecourt along with the Source Fountain, Lovejoy Fountain Plaza, and Pettygrove Park were meant to evoke a metaphorical watershed.

Halprin had previously designed San Francisco’s Ghirardelli Square and Minneapolis’ Nicollet Mall, but it was the opening of the Auditorium Forecourt Fountain in June 1970 that would catapult Halprin onto the international stage. Accolades followed in Life Magazine, while the New York Times architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable dubbed it “one of the most important urban spaces since the Renaissance.”

This new type of people’s park, where nature is abstracted with a geometric naturalism, was based on Halprin’s studies of the High Sierra’s spring cascades. Halprin saw these plaza spaces as theatre sets for choreographing human movement – and unlike being fountains solely for viewing, these were designed for interaction.

In 2001, the Lawrence Halprin Landscapes Conservancy was formed to preserve and safeguard Halprin’s Portland legacy. The Portland Open Space Sequence was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in March 2013.