detroit’s waterfront showcases a fountain by sculptor isamu noguchi.
yes, THE noguchi of the iconic 1940s herman miller coffee table, godfather of all things awesomesauce that sit in front of your couch.
feast your eyes on this snowy nighttime instagram of noguchi’s fountain i just snapped from my apartment overlooking hart plaza.
[update: on further review, i realize that this image is blechhh. the superpowers of instagram are heavily compromised by darkness… should’ve had the patience to wait for a snowy daytime shot.]
a coworker of mine – one with forty years of experience in the field and one of my greatest teachers – once told me the story of his struggle to fix the noguchi fountain.
the year was 1980-something. i was twirling my pigtails while reading a berenstain bears book to my baby sister. “bart” was assigned by our architecture/engineering firm to fix the monumental hart plaza water fountain, broken from the moment of its installation a decade earlier, as a gift for mayor coleman young’s birthday. (the city may have been crumbling from within, but regional cashflow surged onward thanks to The Big Three Jerkfaces.)
bart supervised the construction of the project on site through the dead of night as the detroit police stood guard to keep hobos at bay. the mayor being in charge of the city and whatnot, this installation had to be completed in utter secrecy.
the city couldn’t understand why the fountain wouldn’t run. as bart directed the disassembly of the hydronic system under hart plaza, he pointed to the basket strainer.
what a basket strainer looks like, fyi.
off came the nuts and the bolts… and out flowed the boots and the hats and the arms and the legs.
oh. so that’s why the fountain wasn’t working.
apparently the local bum network had, in the deep concrete well of this broken fountain, found a comfortable shelter from winds off the detroit river. i’ll leave the rest to your imagination.
the fountain was scheduled to reopen under much pomp and circumstance at a ceremony with the mayor and a large crowd of well-wishers. a few moments after water began cascading from the sculptural metal halo to music and cheers, a floating bum emerged over the lip of the well, sputtering and cursing and shaking himself off. happy birthday mayor young!
noguchi was invited to the reopening of his fountain, but someone botched the travel paperwork. he arrived on the wrong date without any arrangements at a time of day when the city had decided not to run the fountain. noguchi took a cab from the airport to the city, wandered around hart plaza in disgust, headed right back to the airport and hopped a plane home, where he died a month later having never seen his detroit fountain actually work.
well. that’s the way bart tells it.
the hunt for a coffee table continues. etsy has not yet yielded a reclaimed wood table that meets my willingness to pay, and in the meantime, a noguchi knockoff in natural wood tones is singing my name.
i am intoxicated by the prospect of having my feet up on a noguchi table whilst staring out into the city at a noguchi fountain. somebody talk me off the edge, please.