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DOWNTOWN LIKE NEVER BEFORE | BREATHING ROOM

A soothing water and stone alliance

October 16, 2003|Veronique de Turenne

Between. That's how you feel on the Bunker Hill steps, a vertiginous rise -- or fall -- that links a hushed Hope Street hilltop with the clatter of 5th Street below. They curve like a sine wave, 103 of them, a symmetry of cement and steel, space and stone. And water. Running water that starts small, pools to cool the air and soothe the ear, then becomes a brook that falls five stories, falls down the center handrail where a rocky bed guides its path.

Lawrence Halprin designed this place, infused it with echoes of the Spanish Steps in Rome. Eight staircases, eight landings, eight slightly different views. At the top there's "Source Figure," one of sculptor Robert Graham's unmistakable women. At the bottom, the Richard J. Riordan Central Library. Along the way there are benches and arches, ferns and shade trees, cafes, places to sit or lean or linger. There are kids with schoolbags, tourists with maps and the blue and white collars of the Bunker Hill work crowd.

And through it all there's the thread of water, the sound of water, the sweet scent of water with top notes of traffic. It's just the touch of grace and whimsy you need in the deep heart of the city.

-- Veronique de Turenne

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