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Flowing Fountains, Mounts of Wondrous Water - Presenting the water works of Formosa Fountain and Engineering Co., Fullerton, Calif.

Editor, Stephen Kelly

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Formosa created these beautiful reflecting pools at Town Center Park in Costa Mesa, Calif. in 1990, but they are as intriguing and pristine as ever. Constructed of concrete with stainless steel walls and overflow rings, each pool has a 25-ft. diameter and is spaced 60 feet apart from center to center.

The fountain equipment is secreted in the parking garage directly across from the Plaza Tower building to hide all fountain fittings and lighting. The fountain had to be perfectly circular and level. Hydraulic calculations were necessary to keep the flow constant (hard to control) over each ring of the varying diameters. No nozzles are visible and surface tension is tight to keep reflection visible. These effects are achieved by dispersing water with plates under the cobblestones. The lights are small but powerful to maintain the elegant look. Consultants to: Tony Sinkosky, Peter Walker & Partners LA. Images: Formosa Fountain & Engineering Co.

Fountains are such a common sight in public spaces and on corporate campuses that most people don't give them much thought, but simply enjoy their beauty and the movement of their waters. And that's the way it should be. A person walking on the beach generally doesn't think about the greater density of seawater to fresh water, or that there's a salinity of about 35 parts per thousand. The beach stroller is taking in the great expanse of water, perhaps contemplating the infinite and taking pleasure in watching the swell of waves and their cascading crash to shore. Water has magical qualities-the way it catches light and its infinite iterations of supple movements and flows.

All that's very nice, but if you are the landscape architect designing a plaza or other public space and the client desires a centerpiece fountain, how do you proceed? You may work for a large firm with an engineering department that handles such technical elements, but perhaps yours is a small firm. You may have an inspired design idea for a fountain, but don't know if the design is practical, i.e., buildable, given the budget. Meanwhile, the design for the other aspects of the plaza move forward, but the fountain issue is not resolved.

Westminster in Orange County, So. Calif., home of ''Little Saigon,'' is the largest Vietnamese community outside of Vietnam. The Vietnam Memorial at the Westminster Civic Center honors both South Vietnamese and American troops. This granite fountain uses the sound of flowing water to create a soothing ambience. The fountain has a 27-ft. radius and a 76-ft. long weir and a central ''eternal flame'' in a cast bronze urn surrounded by a water moat. The fountain equipment is located in the moat, where 24 bronze drain fixtures arranged around the bottom of the water wall return the weir flow to the central moat. The sculptor is Tuan Nguyen, born in Saigon in 1963. Nguyen tried to flee Vietnam in 1988, but was put in a ''re-education'' camp. He escaped through Cambodia in 1989. Nguyen received his fine art degree from the Art Institute of Southern California in Laguna Beach, Calif. Consultants to: Lam C. Nguyen, DLA Design - Construction. Photos: Steve Kelly, LASN

Thank God for fountain consultants, designers and builders! Our story concerns just such a company-Formosa Fountain and Engineering Co. [] of Fullerton in Southern California. Formosa's goal is to translate the aesthetic direction of the landscape architect into the plans and specifications required to get any fountain constructed. What exactly can they do for you? ''Our engineering depicts the hydraulic, mechanical and electrical system designs the fountain needs, using the best fountain equipment available,'' the company explains. The landscape architect need not fret over pool plans, piping diagrams, elevations, sections, details, equipment space layout, piping penetrations, lighting layouts, panel board layouts, wiring diagrams, etc., i.e., all the technical aspects of fountain building in which the landscape architect may not have the requisite expertise. That's the job of the fountain engineers, and we all appreciate specialists. You may be able to put new brake pads on your vehicle, but are not likely to tackle the five hours of labor involved in replacing front wheel stabilizing bushings on your car. You let the experts handle that job. You give the fountain experts your budget and your design ideas and specifications, if applicable, and let them loose.

This ''dry deck'' fountain is located in the 2.2-acre plaza across from the Fairmont San Jose (Calif.) Hotel-once known as Plaza Park, then Pueblo Plaza, now the Plaza de Cesar Chavez-whew! The plaza was established when San Jose moved from the banks of the Guadalupe River to the current downtown location in 1797 and is the ''oldest public open space in California,'' per Wikipedia. This area was the site of California's first state capitol (1849-1851).

The fountain is constructed of precast concrete ''tables'' with 12-inch square glass blocks between and stainless steel grates. Water effects include geyser nozzles and a fog system capable of three operating levels. Lighting is via four 500-watt incandescent submersible fixtures at the intersections.
Consultants to: Mary Margaret Jones, Peter Geraghity, Hargreaves Associates

''Our job is a blend of art and engineering,'' explains Stu Campbell, a principal with Formosa. ''We take away the headache of designing a fountain from the landscape architects. They give us a rendering in CAD, or a site plan, on a paper napkin (we've had someone submit a doodle in MS Paint), and we fill in the technical details. We can engineer anything they can dream.''

But given the perversity of everyday life, sometimes things go wrong and the landscape architect may have to scrap Plan A for Plan B or Plan C (see Murphy's Law). Perhaps you've underbid the job and underestimated the cost of the fountain. You're in a spot. The client expects a fountain, but at this point, say it isn't so, there's only about $80,000 in the budget for the fountain, and what kind of fountain can you possibly get for that nominal sum?

"Moving water... a source of fascination since ancient times, is still a marvelous tool for humanizing an area today. Fountains bring us closer to nature. As one gazes upon the ever-changing patterns formed by falling water, never ending vistas for the soul paint interesting and serene images in our minds. Sunlit rainbows are formed during daylight and sparkling diamonds of light at night. A naturally soothing music is continuously played by the dancing water. And it is, always, a landmark!"

Formosa Fountain and Engineering Co.

Mr. Campbell notes that while such scenarios are not business as usual, his company has been able, on a special consideration basis, to design and build a fountain to meet unexpected budget constraints, or to design and build a fountain to meet a very short deadline. The $80,000 fountain budget example was a real-case scenario in which Formosa was able to design and build a fountain at that price for a beleaguered client.

This fountain in the Tustin Market Place (So. Calif.) is an engaging buffer between the food court for several restaurants and the parking lot.

''I thought this was an interesting use because it shields the view, the sounds, and the safety hazards of the parking lot from families,'' says Stu Campbell, principal, Formosa Fountain & Engineering, Co.

Design Intent

Clients usually have appropriate budgets for fountain work and enough time to plan and customize the fountain for the particular venue. Formosa, for example, offers such fountain design options as geyser effects; jumping jets; dry decks (fountains that shoot water from the ground, aka pop jet fountains, with a hardscape surface supported on a below-deck stanchion system or combined with a remote storage/surge tank); waterfall effects; lighting effects; musical choreography; motion sensory effects and ''fire enhancements.''

This large colored-concrete bowl fountain (30-ft. dia. fountain with 15-ft. dia. diameter bowl) for the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, Calif. was retrofitted in 2006. The fountain includes a castellated bowl with a sequenced set of 16 geyser nozzles around the bowl and a fog system. The mechanical system is a hybrid of large submersible display pumps and submersible sequenced pumps, with electrical and filter equipment located in a nearby parking garage.
Consultant to: Larry Mouri, RJM Design Group

''We strongly believe in supporting the landscape architect's design intent,'' says Mr. Campbell. ''We will sometimes suggest changes to the fountain, but only those that work towards their design intent.'' There are exceptions: One landscape architect, for example, mandated a motion-sensor dry-deck fountain for the front of a movie theater.

We designed the entire fountain after that: an octagonal geyser with 16 motion sensors which track the movement of people and chase them with jumping jets.''

Historic downtown Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio offers two fountains-an outer ''nozzle and scupper'' feature (inset), and an inner ''dry deck'' animated, musical play fountain that is extremely popular.

The outer nozzle/scupper fountain (above) uses a single display pump to bring water to the nozzles and weirs. A wind control prevents the nozzles from spraying the surrounding hardscape. Lighting is by submersible low-voltage fixtures each containing three MR-16 bulbs in primary red, blue, and green, which provides a generally white light with colored highlights.

The inner ''dry deck'' play fountain (top above) features 51 individual submersible pumps, each individually controllable. As a safety feature, each independent nozzle/pump assembly lacks enough power to injure people. Lighting is by eight fiber-optic illuminators with dichroic color wheels. Control of the pumps and lighting is by DMX interface. Consultants to: Mike Carder, GGE Engineers

Engineering Per Precise Specifications

Engineering per precise specifications basically means that Formosa doesn't want to ''over-engineer'' anything. ''We put in the extra work to engineer exactly what each feature requires, as opposed to over-engineering something and then turning it back half way,'' explains Mr. Campbell.

The 200-ft. long Chinese marble and granite fountain at the Beijing Hotel spans three floors and cost $2 million USD. City Lights of Beijing designed the fountain and Formosa was contracted to assist with the jumping jets. The jets are mounted to the ceiling of the floor below and shoot through bored holes with brass collars. Laminar streams of water leap from brass collars set in the fountain basin to disappear in similar stainless steel catch screens, giving the fountain an almost ''alive'' appearance. Nine jumping jets create playful patterns. The leaping water is very attractive to children and grown-ups alike.

The company keeps current on new equipment in the industry, and being independent of any equipment manufacturer, it uses what is best for the specific need of any project.

The concrete, flagstone and tile fountain at the South Coast Home Furnishings Center, Costa Mesa, Calif. has a 22-ft. dia. Pool and eight foot dia. spray ring. A spray ring aimed inward converges on a foam nozzle, with four smooth-bore nozzles embedded in the four planter columns. The submersible pumps and a buried filter make for a vaultless, economical installation.
Consultants to: Jerry Neely, Top Line Construction; RPA Landscape Architecture

There have been breakthroughs in LED lighting the past year, for example, and the fountain consultant has specified equipment in projects within a month of release onto the market.

The SwedishAmerican (sic) Hospital in Rockford, Ill., founded in 1911, is a teaching hospital affiliated with the University of Illinois College of Medicine.

The fountain is situated in a healing garden in the heart of the hospital complex. Formosa went through nine design iterations to get just the right soothing water effect sounds. To keep the fountain from freezing in the winter there are two heaters and an automatic purge system at 32 degrees.

Total Cost Consideration

The fountain consultant knows a poorly engineered fountain becomes an expensive maintenance liability down the line, or-a fancy, overpriced flower pot. Total cost consideration means the fountain consultant looks not only at installation costs, but the operational costs.

The centerpiece fountain for the new American Christian Credit Union headquarters in Glendora, Calif. was engineered to an $80k budget, including all consultant fees, city fees, contractor's fees and materials. The colored concrete 21-ft. dia. fountain has 17 geyser nozzles arranged in a ''wedding cake'' pattern and uses submersible pumps and a buried filter.
Consultant to: American Christian Credit Union

For example, notes, Mr. Campbell, ''We have worked out a lot of the issues with submersible equipment (such as sound and reliability) to reduce installation costs on smaller fountains, and issue maintenance manuals with each fountain to ensure long-term operations. Our modest engineering fee more than offsets the cost savings our expertise brings to the landscape architect.''

The main fountain (32-ft.) for Plantation Lakes, Myrtle Beach, S.C. is located on a lake and includes a water weir drawing water from the lake and returning it (there are also two 20-ft. fountains). The fountains, constructed of concrete, CMU and granite, all incorporate Snowball type nozzles and overflow weir on a pyramid form. These fountains utilize submersible pumps and buried filters.
Consultant to: Sam Morgan, Weed Man of Wilmington; Nichole Rohn, Landscape Designer

About Formosa Fountain & Engineering, Co.

  • Independent fountain consultant firm based in Fullerton, Calif.Began as Fountain-Tech in 1979.
  • Changed name to Formosa Fountains in 2003.


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August 18, 2018, 7:23 pm PDT

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