June 20, 2012 at 8:22 AM ET
You don’t need to be a high roller to enjoy one of Las Vegas’ most sought-after shows: the dancing waters of the Fountains of Bellagio. Thousands are drawn here daily by the same free spectacle of music and light that made the gang from "Ocean’s Eleven" pause.
Creating something to make travelers reflect amid the neon flash of the Vegas strip was in fact the goal: “You have to continue to challenge people’s minds and emotions with the unexpected and with something that’s new,” says Mark Fuller, CEO of WET Design. The company debuted the Bellagio Fountains in 1998, and they’ve since become a benchmark for innovative fountains worldwide.
From function to fantasy, fountains have evolved from sources of drinking water to works of art that manipulate the most basic of life forces — water and gravity — to emotionally moving results. Fountains are often found in public spaces that travelers naturally seek out; they make beautiful photo-ops and, with a coin’s toss, may even improve your luck.
Not only do fountains put on a show, but they also encourage others to perform, such as street musicians or that guy proposing by Rome’s 18th-century Trevi Fountain. A pope commissioned the Trevi Fountain as a statement of power and artistic and engineering know-how — motivations for many of the most amazing fountains, from the Grand Cascade built for Peter the Great at his summer palace to newcomer Dubai Fountain, which broke records when it opened with 6,000 lights in 2008.
In Chicago, which counts Buckingham Fountain as one of its most famous landmarks, Millennium Park’s Crown Fountain brought the concept into the 21st century. Two 50-foot black glass towers on either side of a reflecting pool project images from a thousand Chicago citizens, creating the illusion of water pouring from their mouths — a modern take on the spouting gargoyles and other creatures of traditional fountains.
The possibilities of playing with water are nearly endless. Yet even when fountains employ high-tech features like the cascade of water that forms words and pictures in a South Korean department store, their allure remains fundamental.
“They motivate people to connect with their inner selves,” says Fuller. “It’s not like standing in front of a big video screen. It’s very rudimentary: we’re born from water; it’s the beauty of that natural element.”
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