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STYLE: Leaders of the Pack : Southern California Trendsetters: Portraits From the Creative Edge : Making Waves: WET Design

March 13, 1994|SUSAN HEEGER

Inside every grown-up is a kid who remembers running through the sprinklers. Which is why waterworks by the Universal City company WET Design are so enticing. If most urban fountains are sedate--bubbling quietly, offering unobtrusive comfort--those of WET (which stands for Water Entertainment Technologies) are shape-shifting and unpredictable. In cities around the world, WET has invited people to sprint through geysers, grab at airborne H2O and otherwise behave like children.

In Southern California, where WET has more than half a dozen installations, tales of these antics are almost legendary. At the Los Angeles Music Center, scene of a fountain that rises and falls according to a computer program, tuxedoed concert-goers dash through during quiet moments only to get soaked as the shooters blast again. On hot days at Universal CityWalk, youngsters caper amid jets that erupt without warning from the plaza floor. Equally tempting is the Watercourt in Downtown's California Plaza (shown here). There, giant shooters and undulating water curtains surround stages. When the stages are empty, the water is the show as plumes dance back and forth and a huge wave crashes below.

As unruly as WET's water sometimes gets, its most distinctive feature is a crystal-clear, tube-like stream known as laminar flow. More than a decade ago, working for Disney Productions, WET co-founders Mark Fuller (second from left) and Alan Robinson used laminar flow to design water wonders for Epcot Center. The LeapFrog fountain they invented there was the genesis of WET Design, which, since its birth in 1983, has grown into a multimillion-dollar firm with an office in Japan.

Jim Nelson, director of planning and development for MCA Development Co., which created CityWalk, calls WET's designs "a kind of techno-art. They look so graceful, so effortless, yet underneath, they're all complicated mathematical equations. That's magic."

Some of the credit for the magic, though, according to JoAnn Matyas (right), senior designer at WET, must go to water itself, which, she says, "has a life, an essence of its own. Yes, we lay it out in nice graphic patterns, but after a point, it takes over."

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