A multi-sensory urban oasis

The name of the Fort Worth Water Gardens is deceptive. Far from being the quiet, bucolic place it suggests, the Texas park is actually a combination of thunderous chasm, concrete slab, airy spray, and swishing water in the middle of a busy city.

When I tried to locate the gardens on Commerce Street, I wasn’t sure I was in the right place because I couldn’t see anything from the roadway. It was only when I walked over to the wall surrounding the park and looked down into a concrete canyon with water roaring down its slopes that I knew this was it. I was staring down into the Active Water Pool, which is awesome in its size, depth (38 feet below ground level) and amount of water (10,500 gallons per minute).

Of course, I could not deny the instinctive call to climb down into it. It was a little scary to step across the stones because they were separated by wide spaces. At one point, the slabs got very narrow, which made them even more dangerous to maneuver, especially when people tried to walk past me on their way back up. (And it’s hard to ignore the memorials to several people who have died falling into the water.) But, once down in the bottom of the canyon, the roar was so loud, it drowned out any other noise and made me feel as if I had entered another world.

But that was the point. Architects Philip Johnson and John Burgee designed the space to “wrap itself around the visitor washing away reminders of the city lying just outside the garden’s walls.”

I thought that the water canyon was all there was to the park, but I was delighted to find there was more: a mountain, an aerated pool, and a quiet pool. Johnson and Burgee created the four-acre park in 1974 as a series of micro-environments to stimulate the senses in a variety of ways.

The Mountain was a series of 20-inch high concrete steps, rising 20 feet into the air. I could see that people loved to scale this height and perch at the top to get a bird’s eye view of the gardens.

I loved the Aerated Water Pool, filled with 38 nozzles, which sprayed water over the pool in an airy mist. When the breeze blew, I was covered in a light film of water droplets, making the experience quite magical.

As a counterpoint to the noisy Active Pool, the Quiet Water Pool was a serene water surface surrounded by trees. It was enclosed by a 22 foot high wall with a trough at the top which spilled water down the vertical sides in a relaxing swish of sound.

I was so enthralled with the Fort Worth Water Gardens that I had to go back to my car and put more money in the parking meter in order to spend more time at this unique urban oasis.