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New Heights: The Fountain Revitalization Project
$90 Million in Renovations

Landscape Architecture by West8
Photography by Daniel Traub


Located about 30 miles outside of Philadelphia, Penn., Longwood Gardens was first opened to the public in 1931 and was the brainchild of industrialist, conservationist, designer, engineer and philanthropist Pierre S. du Pont. The gardens are home to one of the world's most impressive fountain collections and welcome over a million visitors annually.


In 2014, Longwood underwent a three-yearlong, $90 million revitalization project that had 81 firms from the U.S. and Europe involved. Overall, 379 of the original fountain jets from 1931 were retained, while 1,340 new jets were added. West8, based in New York and Belgium, was the landscape architectural firm for the task.


One of the major additions to Longwood Gardens was a subterranean tunnel system. This system allows easier access for maintenance, because in the past, if anything malfunctioned repair crews would have to dig down to find and fix the pipe or electrical wiring. This new 1,400 linear feet tunnel system houses 51 tons of copper wire (10 miles) and 5 miles of fountain piping. To make this possible, 100,000 cubic yards of soil had to be moved and redistributed.

In 1906, industrialist Pierre du Pont (1870-1954) purchased a small farm near Kennett Square, Pa., in order to save a collection of historic trees from being sold for lumber. Great-grandson of DuPont chemical founder Eleuthere Irénée du Pont, Pierre soon used his family's fortune to develop an extraordinary, private garden and fountain collection, drawing inspiration from world fairs and European gardens.

In 1931 Pierre debuted the Main Fountain Gardens and wowed spectators with 380 fountain heads, a recirculation system of 18 pumps that propelled as much as 10,000 gallons of water a minute, a 50 foot waterfall and fountains that burst water 130 feet into the air. Although, after 83 years of use it was time to breath some life into the gardens, as some of the features had become dilapidated and antiquated.

So, on September 25, 2014, Longwood Gardens announced that it would embark on a series of major improvements to replace the 83-year-old fountains' infrastructure with the latest technology to improve guest enjoyment and honor the visionary design by Pierre S. du Pont. The entire construction period lasted nearly four years and cost $90 million.

A total replacement of the fountains' electrical and plumbing infrastructure was exchanged with 21st Century systems that allowed the fountains to run more efficiently and for a longer period of time during the year.

A total of 1,399 new energy-efficient LEDs, 1,024 in color and 375 in white, replaced the outdated 724 holophane incandescent lights. This upgrade allows the water choreography to take on a limitless range of colors.


A new type of fountain that has a flame on top of it was installed. This new fountain feature, known as a "Flame Nozzle," was designed in Germany and is able to erupt a foot-high flame ontop of a 10-foot tall water jet. The flame is carried from the base of the jet to the top of the fountain through little air bubbles in the water. If it is too windy, the flame and the water jet can be scaled back or turned off completely. In total, 30 flame nozzles were inaugurated.



Another state-of-the-art fountain feature incorporated as a result of the revitalization project is known as the "Basketweave Nozzle." For each fountain of this type, there are 40 small streams angled to create a circular sheaf of wheat effect. A total of 30 basketweave fountains were added.


The architectural firm Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners (BBB) led the renovation project with a team of local, national and international designers. The overall design aim was to accommodate a greater range of visitors, improve visitor flow and promote access to different areas of the gardens.

The Landscape Architect's Role

Claire Agre from West 8, a landscape architecture firm with locations in Belgium, New York, and the Netherlands, was the senior landscape architect for the project. Her and her company were tasked with creating Longwood Garden's first ever master plan with the focus of ensuring 40 years of vitality for the Gardens. This included designing the facilities, ecological site amenities, gardens and all the pathways.

At the site, the staff at West 8 was sub-consultants to the architectural company Beyer Blinder Belle and coordinated the circulation and connections for the 1,000-acre property. West 8 also designed all of the landscape including: plantings, pathways, new walls, new furniture and new site elements.

"The thing that has been the most gratifying has been the cultural shift we were able to bring to the Gardens" said Agre. "When we started, there was very poor connectivity. There were no good pathways, no benches, it did not meet ADA... we really changed that."

Increasing the Visitor's Experience
Because Pierre du Pont wanted visitors to discover new areas and explore the Gardens with curiosity as their guide, a plethora of new areas were added to the Gardens to honor the spirit of the original design. Visitor accessibility was improved with the incorporation of 5,700 feet of new paths and walkways, stairs on the East and West sides of the Gardens and a new elevator for the Fountain Overlook.

Longwood's Executive Director Paul B. Redman stated, "We are preserving Mr. du Pont's legacy and adding to it through beautiful new plantings, the creation of new spaces in which to relax and reflect, and improved accessibility so guests can walk freely among the fountains."

New areas comprise of: a trellis bridge connecting to the Fountain Terrace, allowing guests to look out over the surrounding gardens; the reopening of the south wall of Longwood Gardens after 20 years of being closed to the public; a new café-style seating zone for 80 people that was added out front of the now, museum-style pump house, creating the "Pump House Plaza," and a pump house lobby inside. New seating areas with tables and chairs have been added throughout the grounds. And, of course, a whole swath of enhanced landscaping features, like increased number of plantings, new allées and enhanced horticultural displays.

Perhaps one of the most ethereal and unique new additions to Longwood Gardens is the Grotto. Entering from passageways on either side of the loggia will take the visitor to a cavern-esque central hall that houses an astounding circular water curtain and oculus that allows natural light to enter the space. There are four water features inside and bench seating for 15 people. The rock wall found within is comprised of 20 tons of Avondale Brown stone and fern verities nestled inside include: East Indian holly, Dyce's hybrid holly, tassel fern and Himalayan maidenhair ferns.

The Grotto was designed as a space for quite contemplation. Jim Garland, founder of Fluidity Design Consultants, says, "The Grotto is an amazing place. It is interesting that even though its new, some visitors discover it and think that it has always been there - even though its new."


Originally, the tallest fountain could propel water 130 feet in the air - a pretty impressive feat considering it was designed and built in the early 1900s. After the revitalization project, the tallest jet that is used in the grand finale of the fountain show can send water soaring 175 feet in the sky.


A total number of 4,457 original pieces of Italian and Indiana limestone, as well as 61 marble and serpentine stone pieces, were meticulously and individually restored by hand - a process that took 27,304 hours to complete. Eight hundred and fifty five new limestone pieces were created in order to replace those beyond repair. Altogether, the gardens now feature 5,373 pieces of restored or replaced stone.


The Grotto is a new feature as a result of the revitalization process. It is a dim, cool, cavern-like space designed for quite contemplation and includes: 4 fountain features, bench seating for 10-15 people and 4 fern varieties. The walls and ceiling consist of 70 tons of Brown Mica Stone that was locally quarried. The Central Weir, or rain curtain, symbolizes a recirculation of the water and has a nearly nonexistent splash radius due to the sloped bottom that the water hits. Interestingly, the central water curtain was engineered to work all year long, even in very cold weather.

New Fountain Features and Engineering
Implemented during the revitalization project were six new fountain features: Basketweave, Garden Grow, Hidden Layer Dancer, Dancer on Stage, Panorama Air Nozzle and Flame Nozzle.

Basketweave (Pictured): 40 small streams per nozzle are angled to create a circular sheaf of wheat effect. (30 nozzles total.)

Garden Grow: Each nozzle has five streams that rotate in a circle; height, speed and direction are all controllable. (16 nozzles.)

Hidden Layer Dancer: A singular nozzle that moves side to side on one axis. (8 nozzles.)

Dancer on a Stage: A singular nozzle that moves side to side, while simultaneously front to back, on two axes for a spherical range. (11 nozzles.)

Panorama Air Nozzle: Compressed air rockets five gallons of water straight up with, if desired, a sound burst. (32 nozzles.)

Flame Nozzle (Pictured): Foot-high flame magically erupts atop a 10-foot-tall water jet. (30 nozzles.)

In order to make all of the fountains as spectacular as they are, 68 new pumps, that circulate a maximum of 31,865 gallons of water a minute, were installed. Additionally, three large subterranean water storage tanks, able to store 338,570 total gallons of water, were also added to Longwood Gardens.

A staggering 100,000 cubic yards of soil had to be moved during the revitalization process to make room for the water tanks and the 1,400 linear feet of precast-concrete tunneling. In order to light everything, 1,103 fixtures were mounted for architectural illumination, 1,399 LEDs for fountain lighting and 254 fixtures for path lighting.


The historic pump house, which was in operation from 1927 until 2014, was left alone for visitors to see. At its peak, this system circulated 10,000 gallons of water a minute through 18 pumps. The gardens were first opened to the public in 1931 and originally had 386 jets and 29 fountain features.


This photo displays the original control house for the fountain show in 1958. This control box system was very difficult to use and synchronization with music was difficult at best. Today, a software program that was designed in Germany that allows for 141 individual, controllable effects, is used to manage the fountains. The software can display a preview of the fountain show before it goes live, seamlessly add music and precisely control pressure.

Pierre du Pont's goal was to rival the fountains he had seen in Europe and at the 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago. On what was then his personal estate, Pierre designed the five-acre Fountain Garden, incorporating both French and Italian elements, to instill a never before seen fountain collection in North America. It was truly at the cutting edge of both design and engineering.

To keep that vision alive nearly 100 years later, using many of the very same equipment, is undoubtedly a testament to human engineering, ingenuity and collaboration.

Paul Redman, relates, "Thanks to the efforts of our world-renowned design, engineering and historic preservation partners, as well as our most talented and dedicated Longwood team, we [revealed] the most extensive and complex garden realization and fountain preservation of its kind in the United States. The results of their commitment and mastery are magnificent."

Jim Garland also avows to just how special the Gardens are, "Longwood Gardens is one of the great American horticultural environments. Very few places are on par with Longwood Gardens... The fountain collection is superb. Anyone who likes gardens or fountains, this is one of the greatest experiences in America."

Team List
Architect: Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners
Landscape Architect: West8
Fountain Design: Fluidity Design Consultants
Stone Restoration: Dan Lepore & Sons, Co.
Architectural Lighting: L'Observatoire International
Fountain Lighting/Nozzles: Crystal Fountains, Fountain People, Oase North America, Inc.
Construction Management: Bancroft Construction
Fountain Performance: Tait Towers, Syncronorm GmbH
Landscaping: Shearon Environmental Design, Saunder Brothers, Inc., Tuckahoe Turf Farms, Inc.
Structural Engineering: Keast & Hood Co.
Electric: Tri-M Group, LLC
Mechanical: Schlosser & Associates
Masonry: Joseph Rizzo & Sons
Plumbing: Worth & Company
Sitework Hardscape: BR Kreider & Sons, Inc.

As seen in LASN magazine, July 2018.

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October 17, 2019, 6:38 am PDT

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