Built in 1961 for the Century 21 Exposition, the International Fountain was built as part of a larger idea of Seattle becoming a “City of Fountains.” The fountain was one of five built on the fairgrounds alone, along with several other fountains around Seattle. Although the city’s fountain aspirations were never quite attained, the International Fountain, with its water jets programmed to coordinate with recorded music, maintains a prominent presence in the Seattle Center and sits nearly at its geographic heart.
In 1960, an international design competition, sponsored by the city of Seattle, was held for the design of a “light, water, and sculpture display.” The Municipal Arts Commission, administered by J. Lister Holmes, was put in charge of the competition. Japanese architects Kazuyuki Matsushita and Hideki Shimizu won the competition, with John O. Phillips and Harry B. Rich selected as local architects.
Matsushita and Simizu’s design called for a fountain with 117 nozzles in a 6-foot-high, 30-foot-wide orb covered with amber glass mosaics sunk into a 185-foot-diameter, bowl-shaped depression. The walls of the depression were covered with exposed aggregate and radially scored. As originally planned, the floor of the basin was to feature white quartzite stone and floodlights in concentric rings to illuminate the fountain for nightly water concerts. Aside from the exquisite materials, the fountain is largely abstract and devoid of extraneous ornament, befitting of the overall modernist, space-age design aesthetic of the world’s exposition.
The original budget for the fountain was $250,000, but the final cost of construction ballooned to $500,000 and still required some design alterations. The number of nozzles was reduced from 465 to 117, and the basin stone was swapped out for less expensive reinforced concrete. Yet much of the design was completed as originally planned. Despite several detractors who thought the design did not live up to its promise, upon completion Time magazine called the fountain one of the major attractions of the exposition.
The fountain was renovated and redesigned in 1995 by Kenichi Nakano and Associates. This renovation included the removal of the mosaic dome and its replacement with a 10-foot-high, 27-foot-wide steel dome; the widening of the basin bowl to a 220-foot-wide diameter, and new “super shooter” jets projecting water as high as 120 feet. The $6.5 million renovation also increased accessibility by adding spiral ramps into the basin and replacing the aggregate and stone with pink granite paving. The reconstructed fountain was dedicated on October 28, 1995.