Water Garden

Water Garden


Behind the Employment Security Building, on the South side of the East Campus Plaza


  • Artist- Lawrence Halprin (born 1916)
  • Endorsing Entities- WA State Arts Commission, WA State Capitol Committee
  • Installation Date- 1972
  • Materials- concrete, water
  • Inscriptions- none

History & significance:

This interactive water feature originated when the State Capitol Committee hired California landscape architect Lawrence Halprin in 1967 to develop a landscape plan for the east capitol campus (built between 1961 and 1976). Due to the immense scale of the plaza, Halprin and his associates felt that a large-scale water fountain or pool (approximately 80 feet square) was needed to break up the expanse. As described in a 1969 planning report, 'the future ornamental pool is conceived as a carefully designed series of poured-in-place sculptural concrete forms over which water would flow in a variety of ways terminating in pools and basins of varying depths. The pool would present a series of sculptural shapes varying in height from below to above eye level with the sound and presence of cascading water being the dominant feature.' Before approval was given for this 'ornamental pool,' it faced strong challenges from the State Capitol Committee, namely due to concerns that then-Lieutenant Governor John Cherberg had about the water garden’s cost (approximately $250,000) and likelihood of attracting 'hippies' who might bathe or loiter there. Despite such criticisms the committee approved the project on November 13, 1969. Finishing the details of funding and design took a few more years, however, and it was not until 1972 that the water garden was completed.

The soothing water feature attracted visitors and state employees alike until the late 1980’s. It was then discovered that the water garden was losing about 70 gallons of water per eight-hour period, though maintenance workers were unable to locate the exact location of the drainage. In addition, surrounding trees’ roots were beginning to crack the foundation of the structure. Because of these factors, the water garden was permanently shut off and drained. This important work of art is scheduled to be restored as part of the East Campus Repair Project.

Lawrence Halprin, recommended to the State Capitol Committee by Walker, McGough, & Folz, architects for the east capitol campus construction project, was considered the premier landscape architect in the nation at the time of his hiring. He had previously created the famous Ghiradelli Square in San Francisco, Lovejoy Plaza in Portland, OR, and had done work on the University of Washington’s campus. Since completing the capitol campus’ water garden, Halprin has gone on to do many other projects the world over, including Seattle Freeway Park, the FDR Memorial in Washington, D.C., and the Haas Promenade, which overlooks the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.

Maintenance record:

  • 1972—The feature was completed and water was first run through its fountains.
  • Water that initially came out was rusty and flooded the surrounding walkways, but these problems were swiftly resolved.
  • Late 1980’s— It was discovered that the water garden was losing about 70 gallons of water per eight-hour period, but the exact location of the drainage could not be determined.
  • Additionally, surrounding trees were growing very large at this time. Their roots were beginning to crack the water garden’s foundation, plus falling foliage was plugging up fountain drains.
  • Late 1980’s—Due to the many problems associated with the water garden’s operation, it was permanently shut off and drained.
  • Today—As part of the renovation work being done on the East Capitol Campus Plaza, the water garden is scheduled to be removed in approximately 2006. Unfortunately, the water garden cannot likely be relocated due to the structural integration of the piece with the east plaza garage roof, as well as the logistical problems of having heavy moving equipment on the east plaza, which was not designed to hold such loads.