The 8 Fountains of the TCU Campus RANKED – An Exploration of Water Feature Discourse

Written by Chip Fankhauser

Yes, you read that title right – there are eight fountains on the TCU campus. Of course, you’ve seen Frog Fountain and probably been sprayed by it on a windy day. But have you taken time to enjoy an indoor fountain at TCU? What about one tucked away, just for visitors? 

Before we get into where the fountains on campus are located, I’d like to give a bit of my personal history and love of fountains. I’ve always been drawn to the soothing sound of running water. Growing up, I lived in a neighborhood with a couple of fountains in different spots. Some were large spouts in the middle of a large lake, while another one was a simple circular fountain with a concrete edge I would pace around (and, on one occasion, fall into). Whenever we would go to an Ace Hardware or a Michael’s Crafts, I would immediately go stand by and admire the display of the $10 plug-in office fountains. I could have spent hours at pet stores looking at colorful, tropical fish as the sounds of the tank circulator lulled me into a trace.

Why, you may ask, have I been indulging in a brief personal history of myself with fountains? I do so to highlight the many ways fountains affect our daily lives, and to introduce the critical analysis that I will be doing on the fountains of TCU. Today, I argue that the world needs more fountain discourse. What makes a fountain good?

Over the course of my famous walking tours of the TCU fountains, and my penchant for water-feature thought, I developed a set of criteria for analyzing and judging a fountain. At this point, I would like to state that a personal set of criteria for fountainalysis is highly subjective. Friends I’ve taken on the tour often disagree with my choices of favorite or least favorite fountains, voicing their own opinions on the relative merits of campus fountains. Below, I will be discussing a few of the criteria I consider when interacting with these fountains, but I encourage readers to develop their own criteria for appreciating these and other fountains. So, what I, a self-proclaimed TCU fountain scholar, look for in a fountain are:

  • Visual Aesthetic and Function in its Space

Am I shallow for putting looks first on my criteria? Well, fountains are generally pretty shallow, so if anything, I’m emulating a fountain through this statement. A fountain should be, first and foremost, pretty. Water features are installed to be a change in scenery, almost taking the form of an always active art installation. However, being pretty often isn’t enough on its own, as it is an important look at how the fountain functions in the space as well. Is there nearby seating from which I can enjoy the fountain? Is the fountain removed from nearby distractions, so I can be fully immersed in the simulated nature? Does this fountain have any greater significance to its placement and design? While a fountain serves a greater purpose than as a simple outdoor accessory, it does need to be pleasant and interesting to look at. 

  • The Sound and the “Up and the Down”

The next criterion is another that seems inherent to the structure but should not be overlooked. How well is the fountain simulating the sounds of water? How is it using its sound? Some fountains seeking to occupy an important space, like the 9/11 Memorial in New York, include high volumes of running water to stress importance, while others have lower volumes of running water to simulate control and serenity. The “Up and the Down” is a related criterion. Is there a mix of water going up into the air, and water coming back down? Classic fountain jets shoot water into the air, while some elements send water falling down the side of a stone surface. Hopefully, the “Up and the Down” will become clearer and more quantifiable once I start discussing the actual fountains.

  • Water Flow and Control

How is the movement of water indicative of what the fountain is trying to convey? Is the water controlled in uniform patterns, or allowed to take different shapes depending on its immediate environment and chance? What statement does that make? This criterion, along with the others, relates to the artistic intent of the fountain. These three include the basics to what I believe makes a good fountain on paper and an intentional design. However, while fountain design may be judged without viewing the fountain in person, it is the next criterion that truly impacts how a fountain is evaluated.

  • How Much a Fountain Reminds Me of the Harsh and Unyielding Hands of Time while, Simultaneously, Comforting Me with a Sense of a Cleansing Reset

The long title for this criterion is simply my way of describing emotional response. How does a fountain make you feel? When I do my fountain tour, I don’t do any real research on what the fountaineer’s design philosophy was. Personally, I find the individual history of each fountain less interesting than my own history with the fountain. When I was stressed, thinking about an upcoming exam, and walked by this fountain, how did my thoughts change? Why did I gravitate towards walking along the edge of this fountain, while I spoke on the phone to my younger brother? Personally, I think fountains serve as a reminder of the dichotomic nature of water, as both a destructive and healing force. On one hand, the flow of water signifies how time will relentlessly flow, with you floating downstream contently or being washed away by the current. On the other, time allows us time to develop, think, and learn, and signifies the always human process of growth. Running water has a massive importance to our anthropological history, and something so important, in any form, is bound to elicit some response.

Now that I’ve described my criteria, I would like to again reiterate my encouragement of the development of your own, personal set of criteria. One friend I took on the tour thought of the “Fall-In Factor,” or how much they would like to jump in. Another thought of the “Proposability” of a fountain, considering its role in a romantic gesture. One miscreant tourist even thought of the criteria of their own desire to urinate in any said fountain. Whatever makes you resonate with a fountain is worthy of discourse, no matter how pretentious or foul.

Note that only fountains accessible to all students are included on this list, so the fountain in the GrandMarc courtyard is not included. Also, simple water features, like Frat Pond, are not included, because they are not fountaining. Finally, if you came here looking for a ranking of TCU drinking water fountains, and you’re still reading, this is the time I tell you that you’ve misunderstood this article. Now, the moment you most likely came here for – Chip Fankhauser’s definitive ranking of the fountains of TCU.

8) The Fountain in front of the MCB

I wish I could forget about this fountain. It is bad. I know, starting with the worst isn’t very inspiring, but I like to lead to the best over time. This fountain has a single jet in the center that sends up a squat pillar of water, before falling in a sloppy and inconsistent blob. Its shape is a simple circle, but while simplicity is sometimes a strength in fountains, in this case it comes off a bit dull. The real sin of this fountain, however, is how close it is to the road. This fountain lies right off University, in front of the Library, and the sounds of cars driving by completely distracts from the already not-so-great sounds of this fountain. Overall, this fountain is just uninspired and unspecial in my book.

7) The Dee J. Kelly Alumni & Visitors Center Fountain

This fountain is tucked away behind the Kelly Center, and is the perfect example of an okay fountain. It isn’t great, really, but it doesn’t particularly offend my senses the way the MCB fountain does. This fountain creates a space that I would visit briefly, but it doesn’t invite me to stay for longer or contemplate the meaning of life. I know that may sound like a lot to ask of a fountain, but other fountains have success with it, so why should I not expect such out of this? When I give my tour, I start with this as the first fountain, and would recommend you do the same. This fountain may be the greatest counterargument to everything I’ve stated in this piece, because this fountain simply doesn’t elicit much response from me whatsoever.

6) The Harrison Fountain

The youngest fountain on campus, the fountain in front of the Harrison has a slight disadvantage on the age-front. Most of the other fountains on this list have been here since my freshman year, and I’ve had more time to ruminate on their relative merits. However, even though it’s a baby, I have some serious critique for this fountain. Here, the “Up and Down” element of the fountain is distorted because the fountain sits so high. You don’t look down into the basin, but rather the basin sits around chest level. This makes it hard to get a sense for the real shape of the fountain. The fountain also prevents you from getting too close. It sits in the middle of a roundabout where cars would drive around it, so to be safe you must stand on the rocks that are a part of the fountain. Also, the nearest bench is significantly far away from the fountain, so much so that the sound from the fountain itself is too quiet to enjoy. While this fountain is constructed with pretty tiles and makes an interesting and mesmerizing gurgling sound, it has some things holding it back. However, given that two new fountains were installed within the last three years, it gives me hope for the addition of more fountains in the future.

5) Frog Fountain

What? Frog Fountain, THE staple fountain of TCU, ranked so low on this list? Frog Fountain is a pretty cool fountain, don’t get me wrong. It is the one fountain on TCU that I have an inkling of the design philosophy. We’ve all heard the narrative about how the tallest structure is meant to be a lily pad that represents the knowledge and experience of the senior class, then the next tallest the juniors, and so on, and that our upperclassmen lead the campus and share their experience. While this story is asynchronous between the fountain’s inspiration, a classic amphibian frog, and the misnamed horned frog (actually a lizard), it is a nice story and idea. However, it’s the execution and lack of restraint that undermines this fountain’s lofty goals a bit. Frog Fountain’s height often backfires, as winds through the commons carry the falling water off center and often onto the ground around the fountain. I don’t really want to sit by Frog Fountain, because a gust of wind might leave me surprisingly wet. Frog Fountain is beautiful, and as a monument and symbol of campus, I think it’s probably our best – but as a fountain, there are others on campus that do it better.

4) The BLUU Auditorium Fountain

This fountain sits in front of the BLUU auditorium and is a great design for a modern fountain. Down the center diameter runs a line of sunken jets that shoot water up in a high fan shape. On either side of this line is a raised, half-circular shaped plateau filled with water that runs down the sides. This fountain is a great example of an “Up and Down” dynamic executed well. The fan shape down the middle evokes a level of unpredictability and spontaneity, while the surrounding semicircles promote order and organization. This fountain seems to encourage a healthy balance of both. Personally, I think the line down the middle is meant to remind us to keep our souls energized and alive, even when surrounded by conformity and homogeny. I may seem like I’m grandstanding here a bit, but I believe a good fountain allows for a wide variety of personal attachment and speculation. This fountain, though less grandiose and monumental than its sister on the other end of the Commons, is a more thoughtful and intentional fountain that I’ve visited many times.

3) Admissions Building Fountain

This fountain is lovely. Another fountain with modern elements, it includes both organized and sleek steps and smooth river stones at the bottom. As you may have noticed, fountains often have a variety of geometric elements, and a big part of their aesthetic appeal comes from how well these elements harmonize. In this fountain, the rectangular, straight edges of the stairs contrast with the overall hemisphere shape of the basin, as well as the edgeless smooth rocks. This fountain does a great job at giving water, an overall amorphous entity, a shape and purpose. This fountain also has a pleasant sound, and a central point to stand and contemplate the fountain. This fountain is the second smallest on campus but does a fantastic job at demonstrating how it’s less so about the scale of the fountain, but the sense.

2) The Beesly Chapel Fountains

These are technically two fountains, but they are identical and lie on opposite ends of the same hallway. They also operate in the space together, creating two similarly peaceful environments surrounding them, so I consider them one. These fountains are the smallest on campus but serve their purpose better than any other on campus. If I could only keep one fountain on this campus and all others would be removed, this would be the one I would save. Sitting behind the chapel, these fountains create a spiritual and forgiving sanctuary away from the usual hustle and bustle of the academic side of campus. The humble trickling sound and traditional geometric designs of this fountain make it largely unique from many other fountains on campus. I personally find this hallway to be the most peaceful space on the TCU campus. Everyone who walks through there immediately lowers their voices, and I think that is due to, at least in part, these gentle fountains. Regardless of a religious affiliation, I think these fountains can be enjoyed on an aesthetic, auditory, and spiritual level. 

1) The Neely Fountain

Though it is the second youngest fountain on campus, the Neely fountain is an incredibly beautiful and satisfying fountain, and deserving of the top spot. The Neely fountain combines several of my favorite elements of TCU fountains into one. It is a large half-circle in shape, and around a circumference is a series of beautifully clear and parabolic jets that shoot up into an elevated basin. The water in this area runs down a smooth edge, onto a pool with smooth river stones at the bottom. This is the best combination of “Up and Down” elements of all the fountains, as the “down” element runs directly under the “up” part of the water flow. This reminds the viewer of the cyclical mechanics of both the fountain and of time itself, but it does so with a vibrancy and energy that encourages persistence and focus. In the center of a major academic hub on campus, this fountain gives passing by students a moment of peace and inspiration, with a serene sound paired with a lively display. When I first saw this fountain, I stood at its edge for several moments, staring into the water and listening to its consistent flow and the silence of my own thoughts. At night, this fountain is beautifully lit. Overall, this fountain is an astounding execution of modern fountain standards and is a spirited asylum for the many stressors of student life.


So, after all that, are you satisfied with this ranking? Do you want to go on your own self-guided TCU fountain tour? Below, I’m including a map including my route through all the fountains, which handily passes tourists down University Drive if you want to patronize one of our local businesses. Have your own thoughts on TCU fountain evaluation? Feel free to write a response to this article. Thank you for reading this, and, from the bottom of my heart, I hope you get to enjoy all the fountains you desire.

Special thanks to my friends for coming on this fountain tour with me so many times! You can see Ana and Chelsea in the photo at the MCB fountain, but this one goes out to my Foster friends 🙂 Photo credits to Delysa Amissa-Aidoo for the photo of the Harrison fountain. All other photos were taken by me on my iPhone 8, sorry they kinda suck. Map created using an image from the TCU interactive map.