The Landscape Architect’s Guide to


Cambridge: Harvard University

Tanner Fountain

Your Guide
Laura Solano, ASLA

Since 1984, Tanner Fountain has stood as a cherished place on the Harvard University campus and as an icon of the movement that positioned landscape as art and landscape architects as artists. Spurred by an invitation from then Harvard president Derrick Bok to make an enduring public water feature, the designer, Peter Walker, sought to challenge tradition: there would be no basins, cascading water, or high jets; it would not be the sole focus of the site it occupies; and he wanted people flock to it whether the water is on or off. 

All of this was achieved in a sparse assembly of 159 smooth granite boulders and a fine water mist. The low boulders are concentrically arranged, inviting people to sit, climb or roam on them, with or without the misty halo that floats above the center of the fountain.

Frederick Law Olmsted, the landscape architect of Central Park, spoke of the influence of landscape but his words could also easily be applied to art: “Gradually and silently the charm comes over us; we know not exactly where or how.”

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