Thinking out of the box
In 2001, I was working for a fountain equipment manufacturer as a designer. My job function was to choose product from our catalog that would achieve the look that the specifier desired. A project was assigned to me that involved sculptures and an animated zero depth fountain for a bank in Omaha, Nebraska. The challenges for the animated feature was all in a day’s work. The sculpture challenges were just the opposite from the animated fountain. How to create the splash that a goose makes taking flight. The story line was, that a flock of geese would be taking off from a pond after being frightened by an approaching buffalo. I had no idea how remarkable of a journey those birds and that buffalo would lead me on. The sculpture artist commissioned for this project was Kent Ullberg. At the time, Kent was regarded as one of the best sculptors-artist of wild creatures. That reputation has been upheld throughout his career. Examples of his artistic and sculpting legacy can be seen on his website, kentullberg.net.
With the geese taking flight, each bird creates a unique splash depending on what part of their body is in contact with the water. With an assortment of various jets, I fly to Omaha to meet Kent and the crew from Kiewit construction to begin mock-up testing to establish what jets would be used to accomplish Kent’s vision. In one of the project’s parking lots, we begin to create splash, some very aerated, and some barely visible above the water’s surface. Kent was very hands-on, getting a feel for the unique characteristics that each jet style would give him. At the end of the day, I had a list of jets, cryptic notes, and a general idea of how this project would play out. At the San Marcos, Texas testing facility, I recreated the parking lot mockup and established the parameters each jet would require based on photos and my notes. Stepping back and evaluating the selection of jets that I used would have you perplexed, wondering what was going on. The wild assortment of jets, lights, junction boxes, and control panels was shipped to Omaha to be installed some months later. Due to the special nature of this project, the final mounting of each jet had to be completed at project startup or commissioning. The plumbing was in place for the penetrations into the pool basin, but the smaller piping was accomplished once all the geese supporting structure was in place. With very few straight lines to be found, being flexible was in order. All this piping and electrical gear would be hidden below a fiberglass grate platform, that was in turn covered with black river rock, as found in a pond. The unique aspect of this statue-type fountain is that you get the full benefit of the project by taking a picture, stopping the splashing action of the water. The full artistry is realized in the fraction of a second the picture was taken. The skill of the artisan sculptor and his vision is then realized. This was a learning experience—learning to think outside the box and make it work, as well as observing a world-class artist applying his craft and an industry leading construction company putting the finishing touches to a masterpiece of work. I was on-site when this project started up and was impressed by the dedication of the crew from Kiewit to make this one-off project work and I got to know a little about Kent, and his child hood in Sweden that influenced his craft today. I watched him work with the Kiewit guys to get the look he wanted, he could get his point across to the guys with just the tone of his voice. There was great respect happening between all involved.