The return of the Braniff fountain

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After many long semesters of being boarded up, the fountain at the center of the first floor of the Braniff Graduate Building is working again. It is a remarkable piece of artwork that brings a more lively atmosphere to the building and represents the University of Dallas’ artistic history.

Dr. Matthew Spring, director of academic success and affiliate professor of English, said: “I think it’s great, it’s nice to have the sound in here, it’s nice to actually walk in and actually see the bubbling. I think it adds a good bit to the atmosphere.” 

The fountain was set to be repaired by Alumni Family Weekend starting on Oct. 21. After initial repairs, the fountain still suffered from low water pressure, although the issue was later fixed. Dr. Jonathan Sanford, president of UD, described it as “anemic.” 

At a roundtable on May 4, 2016 titled, “Our Architectural Legacy: Celebrating and Reviving O’Neil Ford at UD,” several faculty members and longstanding members of the UD community discussed the significance of much of the art on campus. 

It was moderated by Dr. Debra Romanick Baldwin, associate professor of English, and included Duane and Jane Landry, FAIA, the architects who worked with O’Neil Ford designing the UD campus, and who themselves designed the AIA-award winning nationally recognized Church of the Incarnation. The panel also included the late Pat Daly, associate VP for administration; Lyle Novinski, emeritus professor of art; Dan Hammett, professor of art; and Michael D. Terranova, national alumni board. 

O’Neil Ford is one of Texas’ most prominent architects and designed many of the buildings on campus in conjunction with Jane and Duane Landry, including the J.M. Haggar University Center, the Braniff Memorial Tower and the Church of the Incarnation. Terranova described him as “the founder, the father, of Southwest architecture.” 

Among the topics of discussion were the contributions of O’Neil Ford’s brother, Lynn Ford, a prominent artist in Dallas. Jane Landry said, “so much of what you see in these buildings is attributable to Lynn.”

Lynn Ford produced the panels on the walls of the fountain out of hand-pounded lead. Jane Landry said that although they are in somewhat poor condition, the significance of the piece remains undiminished. “It is something that is really a treasure to this university,” she said.

The fountain’s matte black finish is not the original finish on the lead. Romanick Baldwin said, “They tried to seal and repair it about 10 years ago and what they ended up doing was kind of painting over it.”

In addition to the patterned sides of the fountain, Lynn Ford also designed the type of ceramic light fixtures that hang above it. Jane Landry said, “Lynn holds the very beginning of the perforated light fixtures in his work. He was making light fixtures with little holes and sparkly lights at O’Neil’s behest.”

These ceramic fixtures, characterized by the small holes where light is emitted, represent a style that has gone on to influence other artists and areas of campus. 

Jane Landry said: “The continuous pattern of the perforated lighting that started with Lynn, was picked up by Martha Mood, by Isaac Maxwell, by Dan Hammett — all different ways of doing wonderful lights, that add so much sign of the handmade feeling. So, something that you might look for when you’re on campus.”

To many students, the return of the fountain is a welcome update. Senior history major Joe Farley said, “Honestly it’s really nice to see some life in Braniff, some natural life.”

Some students, however, seem fairly unimpressed with the fountain. Senior business major Huzeifa Mustafa described it as “ugly, and the water’s dirty.”

Several members of the faculty have apparently benefited from the white noise provided by the fountain.

“I’ve been talking with some colleagues and one thing that’s nice about it is it actually allows for more conversations, you’re not so worried about everyone hearing everything you say,” Spring said.

The fountain in Braniff is a mark of UD’s artistic heritage and place in the history of Dallas. Romanick Baldwin said, “It’s a really amazing and important architectural piece, not just for UD, but for the DFW area.”

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