A Look at Lauridsen Fountain’s ‘Off Season’

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Interative Waterfeature

Cowels Commons is a public space serving as a “front yard” gathering space in Des Moines, Iowa, and a “red carpet” entry to the city’s Performing Arts Center. The centerpiece of the Commons is Lauridsen Fountain, a shallow reflecting pool whose shape is reminiscent of the profile of a sailing yacht’s hull, and which is topped with a series of computer-controlled arching water jets.


Since its completion by OTL in 2015, the interactive water feature has quickly become one of the community’s favorite places to cool down in the summertime, with kids splashing across the surface and running through the seventeen choreographed jets, whose heights can reach twenty feet.

But winters are cold in Des Moines, and summer is short – the fountain runs from June through September. Designing a public space that could be programmed for use throughout the year was one of the project’s challenges for landscape architects Ken Smith Workshop, while ensuring that the fountain’s winterization down-time didn’t detract from the park’s year-round functionality and appeal was a key driving factor for the water feature’s designer, Fluidity Design Consultants.

While the half-inch deep “membrane pool” creates a beautiful mirrored surface and a fun opportunity for children to interact with the water without the dangers associated with deeper pools, its real benefit is that the flat surface becomes part of the Commons’ hardscape when the fountain is drained. The seventeen nozzles and fifty color-changing LED light fixtures were also designed and installed so they are completely flush with surrounding finishes, virtually disappearing when the fountain isn’t running.

This integration of fountain and hardscape allows the city of Des Moines to stage a variety of events in Cowles Commons throughout the year. In fact, one of their most popular events just wrapped up, a celebration of the NCAA’s “March Madness” first and second rounds along with a St. Patrick’s Day celebration known as Hoops and Hops. The Iowa Craft Beer tent was set up on the park’s red-carpet hardscape area, including right on top of the fountain. The event included a continuous stream of college basketball on large-screen TV’s, locally crafted beers, and several live musical performances.

OTL is proud of our role in this project, and we love the fact that the fountain gets year-round use, whether it’s running as a fountain or not. With that said, as designers and builders of water features, we’re looking forward to the weather warming up in spring, so the fountain can start up again come June for another enjoyable summer.

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