Jamison Square Fountain

A cascade, a pool, and so much more...

Water is one trick designers always have up their sleeve if they want to attract a crowd.

A true honeypot of public space design, thoughtful ponds, cascades, rills, reflecting pools, pop jets, bubblers and other watery wonders will draw people in every time.

They can be big, small, solemn or silly, and some of them manage to appeal to people of all ages. A rare few even look good without any water.

One such marvel is the Jamison Square Fountain in Portland.

The Fountain was built in the mid-2000s and is a well-publicised urban water feature, but it’s worth revisiting to remember just why it’s been so successful.

1. A catalyst for change

Jamison Square was a catalyst project for the redevelopment of the Pearl District, to the north of downtown Portland. Once home to railway yards and light industry, The Pearl is now a textbook urban renewal neighbourhood of mid-height buildings, thousands of new residents, ground floor shops, generous, walkable footpaths, convenient public transport and a variety of parks and public places.

2. Simple concept

The design concept is incredibly simple. There are only three elements to Jamison Square: a timber ‘boardwalk’ – a timber footpath effectively, that runs along each block of The Pearl towards the river, and recalls the former riverfront walkways; a gallery – a number of large-scale public artworks are installed; and the fountain itself.

Looking into the Square from above. The boardwalk is in the foreground. Look for the row of stone blocks snaking through the middle of the park.  Image: Flickr User pondskipper via Wikimedia Commons.

Looking into the Square from above. The boardwalk is in the foreground. Look for the row of stone blocks snaking through the middle of the park. 
Image: Flickr User pondskipper via Wikimedia Commons.

The contemporary totem is one of four artworks marking the entries to Jamison Square.

The contemporary totem is one of four artworks marking the entries to Jamison Square.

3. An engaging experience

The backbone of the Fountain is a long wall, slightly curved in the middle. It is made of chunky, stacked stone blocks, perfectly arranged for little kids to negotiate the top with someone holding their hand, or for big kids to dash along.

Beyond the wall the stone stacks decrease in height and vary in spacing. In some places it’s still possible to make the entire journey on the stone steppers. Elsewhere it becomes trickier once you add in…the water.

On regular intervals water starts to spill out of cracks and crevices in the rock. It starts in the middle with a tiny trickle, then moves on the rock stack next door, then the next one, then the one in front, and so on until it some places the water is 300mm deep.

The pavement in front of the wall slopes gently down, creating different water depths, and allowing kids of all ages to enjoy the experience.

Once the basin is full the water slowly drains away, till only the stones remain and the whole process starts again.

4. A versatile space.

The Fountain has been designed to be experienced both with and without water.

 The water can be drained and the Fountain used as amphitheatre seating for events in the Square.

 The water can be drained and the Fountain used as amphitheatre seating for events in the Square.

5. A user-friendly space.

Movable folding chairs are scattered around the Square, easily repositioned according to your preference for sun, shade, distance from or closeness to the Fountain. The street blocks are small and the footpaths generous, so it’s easy to get to the Square, in fact it’s almost impossible to avoid it as you’re walking through the district. The quality of construction is excellent and maintenance is obviously a priority, all contributing to the sense that this is a well-loved and highly valued piece of the city.

Now it’s over to you.

What do you think about Jamison Square Fountain? Let me know one thing that appealed to you the most. Of course, if you’ve visited Jamison Square, I’d love you to share your thoughts on the experience.

If you know someone else who might find this interesting, why not share it, and if you liked it ‘heart’ us below. Go on...give it a shot.

Thanks for reading, and see you soon for more garden, landscape and design stories.


Note: Jamison Square Fountain was designed by PWP Landscape Architecture. It is located at 810 NW 11th Avenue, Portland. It Find out more about the history and opening hours at the City of Portland website.

Although we visited on a rather bleak day, lot's of people were still engaging with Jamison Square Fountain. This image gives a glimpse of what it's like on a summer's day - pandemonium! If you're in Portland in summertime, go check it out. Image: Gary Halvorson, Oregon State Archives.

Although we visited on a rather bleak day, lot's of people were still engaging with Jamison Square Fountain. This image gives a glimpse of what it's like on a summer's day - pandemonium! If you're in Portland in summertime, go check it out.
Image: Gary Halvorson, Oregon State Archives.