Recently I sat and drank a Slurpee on the edge of the International Fountain in Seattle. It was a clear, warm, sunny day, which the city gets almost a dozen of over the course of every year or two.
If you've never had this experience, I have to recommend it. The fountain itself is pretty remarkable. It's essentially a giant stone bowl, a least a couple hundred feet across, that dips down into the ground. Were it not for all the water coming out of the silver dome in the center, you'd think it was an amphitheater. Sometimes the fountain sprays at random, other times its streams are choreographed to music, but understand that that water isn't really the important part. What makes the experience are the people around the fountain.
There aren't any signs that say, "Hey kids, go play in the water!" And there are no plaques that read, "I wonder if you could run up and touch the silver dome without getting sprayed!" Yet every time I've seen the fountain, there are the children, getting sprayed and laughing.
And that's what blows my mind.
This is just metal and concrete. It's a curious configuration of pumps and tubing. In all respects, we should look at it and see a void, cold, lifeless thing. It is an object.
Yet the fountain is beautiful, not because it has some artful aesthetic, but because it draws a certain response from people who see it. Children look at it as a big toy, a giant sprinkler with no signs or barriers to keep them away. Their parents find a conveniently placed concrete bench that circles the fountain, where they can sit and relax for a while. And so an atmosphere of relaxed, comfortable life surrounds the place, all because someone who knew a lot about people put in for a large order of concrete and water pumps.*
*This post is about the Penny Arcade Expo.