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Tastemaker: Jim Garland

At Longwood Gardens, fountain designer Jim Garland unveils his wet and wild plan for a Gilded Age gem

Written by Ted Loos

Most architects build in bricks, concrete, and glass. But Jim Garland works with the least solid material around: water.

Garland, founder of Los Angeles-based fountain-design firm Fluidity, trained as an architect at UCLA but took the road less traveled. “It wasn’t easy to transition to this unsanctioned art,” Garland says of his 30 years designing every manner of what is essentially water choreography. “There are just a few of us out there.”

Garland’s latest, and perhaps greatest, design has just been unveiled: the renovation and enhancement of the Main Fountain Garden at Longwood Gardens, the historic Pierre S. du Pont estate in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. “It’s the most complex thing I’ve designed,” he says. “It will completely capture you.”

Working within the original 1930s footprint, Garland and his team took the fountains from analog to digital—or, as he puts it, “whole orchestra, not just a quartet.”

At Longwood Gardens’ Main Fountain Garden, choreographed sprays are part of the show (through September).

Powered by a series of enormously complicated mechanicals that control pumps and valves, what were once lovely, fixed compositions are now balletic, dancing, brightly colored liquid fireworks. Sprays shoot 175 feet in the air and create, among other things, the shape of a Fabergé egg. The pièce de résistance may be the actual flames that leap out of a tall spray—hot stuff, indeed.

The result is somewhere between Versailles and Vegas, with enough Old World charm still coming through the glitz. “Jim is the Elton John of the fountain world,” says Longwood’s president, Paul Redman, of the showmanship Garland brings.

Delicate basketweave patterns of water and colors created by LED lighting are new features at Longwood Gardens’ Main Fountain Garden.

Garland has worked all over the world, from Dubai to the fountains in front of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. And certainly Longwood is the perfect client, having invested $90 million in the project, which includes not only Garland’s work but also restoring 4,000 pieces of limestone and adding 2,000 boxwood trees. 

A restored antique limestone fountain mask. 

So obviously, Garland has a beautiful fountain installed at his Los Angeles home, right? Not yet. “I’m planning on one!” he says, bubbling over, you might say, with enthusiasm. “It will spin in a mild but magical way and make delicate sounds. And I think people will swoon.” 

Gushing with talent, Los Angeles architect Jim Garland of Fluidity has been called “the Elton John of fountain design.”


Photography: Sam Markey   
Produced by Doris Athineos