The New York Times recently installed a visually stunning water whirl fountain outside the entrance of their renowned headquarters on 8th Avenue in Manhattan. This jaw-dropping work of hydrodynamic art has quickly become an iconic landmark and popular tourist attraction, drawing crowds who gather daily to witness its hypnotic dance of water.
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An Overview of the Water Whirl Fountain
The water whirl fountain was custom designed by renowned kinetics sculptor Olafur Eliasson and engineered by Water Entertainment Technologies (WET). This one-of-a-kind fountain measures 60 feet in diameter across its granite base. It consists of a giant circular dish with a depression in the center that holds a depth of just 2 inches of water. The outer edge of the dish features 60 nozzles mounted at equal intervals along the perimeter.
When in operation, the nozzles release a fine mist of water that is propelled centrifugally towards the center of the dish. The mist converges into a coherent, spiraling vortex that rises nearly 30 feet high before curling back downward and dissipating into the shallow pool below.
The momentum of the vortex is maintained through the continuous pumping action of the outer nozzles. The water circulation rate can reach an astounding 10,000 gallons per minute at full power. Subtle variations in the water pressure from different nozzles creates a dynamic, constantly shifting form to the whirl that entrances onlookers.
The Fountain’s Opening in 2022
The New York Times Building opened in 2007 to house the newspaper’s headquarters. Located between 40th and 41st Streets, the 52-story skyscraper was designed by renowned architect Renzo Piano.
In 2021, the Times Company announced plans to install the water whirl fountain outside the building’s entrance as part of a re-imagining of the surrounding plaza. After a year of construction, the fountain opened to the public in April 2022.
The water whirl quickly became a popular attraction, drawing office workers, tourists, and pedestrians who stop to observe its graceful gyrations. Even locals who pass by regularly are still captured by its kinetic beauty. The fountain helps foster a sense of community and vibrancy to the public space.
What Makes the Fountain So Mesmerizing?
What is it exactly about the water whirl that makes it such a transcendent sight? Here are some key elements that contribute to its visual magic:
- Symmetry and repetition – The equidistant nozzles systematically firing in unison creates a satisfying sense of harmony and order.
- Smooth flow – Despite its turbulence, the water maintains a smooth, laminar flow with no splashing. This adds to the hypnotic effect.
- Ever-changing form – The shape continuously evolves so observers can never predict its next move.
- Contrast – The dark granite backdrop accentuates the white whirl of water, making it pop visually.
- Ambient sounds – The gentle hiss of spraying water layers over city noises, creating a calming auditory experience.
- Motion – The downward spiral is perpetually in action, demanding the eye’s attention.
The combination of these elements creates an almost otherworldly sensation of being transfixed by a natural phenomenon. The water whirl truly embodies grace in motion.
The Fountain’s Design Inspirations
The fountain’s design was influenced by several precedents in art and architecture:
- The spiral form echoes Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty – an iconic earthwork sculpture built on Utah’s Great Salt Lake in 1970.
- The circular pumping system was inspired by George Delaw’s Egg Beater fountain at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC.
- The shallow depth of water recalls textured granite fountains found in classic Mughal gardens.
- The dynamic motion has parallels to “kinetic” art works of the 20th century meant to immerse viewers.
- The use of nozzles and pumps builds on a history of modern water features for public spaces.
By combining elements of these disparate inspirations, Eliasson crafted a unique work that feels both contemporary and timeless.
The Fountain’s Hidden Technical Wonders
While the water whirl appears magical in its beauty, it is secretly powered by some sophisticated engineering:
- Variable frequency drives – These precisely control the pumps to modulate the water flow.
- Programmable logic controller – This automates the fountain’s effects throughout the day.
- Water treatment – Filters, UV, and chemical treatments keep the water clean.
- Heated basins – Below ground reservoirs maintain water temperature in colder months.
- Baffles – Strategically placed barriers smooth the water flow.
- LED lights – Custom lighting creates dazzling nighttime displays.
- Granite surface – The stone’s texture helps grip the flowing water.
This intricately coordinated technology operates seamlessly behind the scenes to facilitate the water sculpture’s graceful aesthetic.
The Fountain’s Environmental Sustainability
The Times Company regards the water whirl as an embodiment of their commitment to sustainability. The fountain was designed to conserve resources and minimize environmental impact:
- The shallow depth of water minimizes volume used.
- The recirculating system means none is wasted.
- LED lighting reduces energy consumption.
- A custom control system optimizes pump usage.
- Water treatments happen on-site to reduce transportation.
- The granite surface was sourced locally in New York.
Through these measures, the fountain strives to delight visitors while also representing eco-conscious values. This aligns with the Times’ broader sustainability goals.
The Water Whirl’s Place in Public Art
The water whirl fountain outside the New York Times Building is a triumphant work of contemporary public art. As a permanent installation in the heart of Manhattan, it meets several civic needs:
- It transforms an ordinary public space into a beautiful, engaging locale.
- It offers a peaceful oasis amidst the bustling city.
- It draws people together through a shared experience.
- It reflects latest art and fountain design.
- It complements the Times’ brand as both classic and innovative.
The runaway popularity of the water whirl shows how dynamic public art can enrich a community. The fountain has become a distinctive new emblem of the city by channeling a simple natural phenomenon into an inspiring work of human creativity. It’s a watery wonder befitting the Big Apple.
Frequently Asked Questions About the Water Whirl Fountain
Here are answers to some common questions about the water whirl fountain at the New York Times Building:
When does the fountain operate?
The fountain generally runs daily from 8am to 10pm, with extended hours on certain nights. It may be turned off occasionally for maintenance.
How tall is the water whirl?
The vortex reaches heights around 30 feet but this varies based on water pressure. Lower heights are used in windy conditions.
How much water gets used?
Around 10,000 gallons per minute circulate through the system at full power. The water is continually recycled.
What happens in winter?
The fountain runs year-round. The below-grade basin is heated to prevent freezing in cold months.
What lights up the fountain at night?
The base of the fountain contains custom LED lighting that creates a dazzling nighttime light show.
Can I walk in the fountain?
No, entering the fountain or throwing anything in the water is prohibited. Safety barriers are in place.
Where’s the best spot to view it?
Prime viewing areas are from the open plaza on 40th Street or from the pedestrian area on 8th Avenue.
Who designed the fountain?
It was designed by Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson and engineered by Water Entertainment Technologies.
Is there an admission fee?
No, viewing the fountain is free and open to the public. Special events sometimes take place in the plaza.
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