Alexandra Lange
Architecture & design critic

In a Warming World, Consider the Mist Garden

Mist Garden by Quennell Rothschild & Partners in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Queens. Photo by Ismail Ferdous/Bloomberg.

When the Unisphere made its debut at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York, the stainless-steel representation of the planet was surrounded by a turquoise pool and rings of powerful water jets, whose leaping plumes echoed the curves of the globe. Radiating from that central basin were the Fountains of the Fairs, including a 310-foot-long stepped pool initially surrounded by bands of colorful flowers.

The visual and aural effect of this waterfall fountain was dramatic, even symphonic: The constant sound of flowing water followed fairgoers as they explored the pavilions along the paths radiating from the Unisphere. This feature was also high maintenance. By the 1970s, the flow had been turned off, and even a pump repair in the early 2000s proved short-lived.

In the summer of 2021, the water at the Fountain of the Fairs finally got turned back on — not as falls, but as fog. Fog is an atmospheric effect that has shown itself to be environmentally responsible, ephemerally beautiful and large-scale spectacular in artists’ hands many times before.

Flushing Meadows-Corona Park’s $6.8 million “mist garden” was the result of input from the Queens communities that live near the park, New York City’s fourth-largest, as well as shifting priorities for the city. The New York City Department of Parks & Recreation was looking for a water feature designed for cooling off, rather than decoration, that would also conform to the city’s new usage restrictions of no more than 25 gallons per minute. A water feature that would delight, but also be visually strong enough to stand up to the 140-foot-tall Unisphere.