Longwood's Fountains Soar Again with Help from PennDesign Alumni
When Longwood Gardens’ Main Fountain Garden reopened this past spring after a two-year, $90 million restoration project, its 1,700 fountain jets and streams had a boost from several PennDesign alumni. Kathryn Biddle (MSHP’13) and Lauren Shaughnessy (MSHP’15) from Dan Lepore & Sons were key members of the project team, which was headed by principal-in-charge and project team leader Karen Adhikari (MLA’90) of Fluidity Design Consultants.
Longwood Gardens is an American display garden located 35 miles outside Philadelphia in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, nestled in the Brandywine Valley. Established by members of the Peirce and du Pont families (of the DuPont Chemical Company), the estate extends today across 1,000 acres, five of which are devoted to a fountain garden created by Pierre S. du Pont beginning in 1928. Inspired by spectacles he had witnessed as a child at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, he created a regal landscape with Italianate arcades and promenades to frame the majestic, illuminated fountain display. Propelled by a complex hydraulic system, the original fountain system could propel as many as 10,000 gallons of water 130 feet into the air. The garden opened to the public in 1931, and was the last major project completed during Pierre’s lifetime.
By 2010, the fountains were showing their age, and the original hydraulic system was no longer sufficient or efficient for the modern water supply. With a new Master Plan in hand, Longwood Gardens hired the architecture firm of Beyer Blinder Belle to oversee its largest project since Pierre’s death. The scope of work including replacing the hydraulic infrastructure, restoring the historic stonework, and enhancing the fountain display and technology—critical design challenges that drew on the expertise of Adhikari, Biddle, Shaughnessy, and other members of the 3,000-person interdisciplinary project team.
As principal-in-charge and project team leader, Karen Adhikari was responsible for the design origination and development for the fountains, a process that took over six years. In her role as principal and studio director with Fluidity Design Consultants, a team of architectural water feature designers and engineers, Adhikari has spent twelve years creating innovative water features and water experiences for clients around the world. But the Longwood project demanded a whole new level of innovation and a new language for the water display effects: fountain effect names such as the “Hidden Layer Dancers,” the “Garden Grows,” and the “Prima Ballerina” became the descriptive shorthand for the project’s designers and contractors alike. For Adhikari, the project was a natural extension of her landscape architecture studies at PennDesign, reinforcing the historic and modern overlap between ecological, technological, and cultural influences on design.
Meanwhile, architectural conservators Biddle and Shaughnessy were responsible for an entirely different design medium. As architectural conservators, they undertook the documentation, condition assessment, removal, cleaning and repair, and reinstallation of over 5,000 pieces of stone in the fountain garden. It was a massive organizational challenge for which both Biddle and Shaughnessy relied heavily on their PennDesign training in digital documentation to coordinate both the in situ and off-site conservation treatments.
After two years of construction, the Main Fountain Garden reopened to the public in May with a grand illumination. The fountain’s jets have multiplied from 380 to 1,719, the tallest of which can reach 175 feet in the air. Visitor attendance has spiked as well, and 1.5 million guests are expected to tour the gardens by the end of the year—a Longwood record. It is only fitting for a project that was the largest in scale, scope, and design ambition since Pierre du Pont’s lifetime.
More information about the project is available on the Longwood Gardens website. Flowing Water, a documentary about the project, premiered on 6abc in Philadelphia and will air this spring on WHYY as well as Comcast on Demand.