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Breaking: Vaillancourt Fountain is on today

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Polarizing gusher returns to form

Brutalist fountain, boxy, concrete, running with water. Photo by Brock Keeling / Curbed SF

Big breaking brutalist news, folks: The unfairly maligned Villancourt Fountain, a concrete behemoth located in Justin Herman Plaza, is once again running.

We repeat: It’s on. And you should check it out as soon as possible.

Today’s water flow is merely a test run, however. No word yet as to when it will be shut off again. We visited the fountain today to see it in all of its splendor. A marked improvement compared to its bone-dry look over the last few years.

The water supply had been shut off since 2014, because of California's energy crisis and drought concerns. But now there is renewed interest to turn the water back on permanently, and effort that would cost roughly $500,000.

San Francisco Chronicle urban design critic John King who, in a series of tweets, noted that the gusher has briefly returned to its intended state, posted a series of shots today, noting, “What the flow of water reveals is the variety of sensations [within] Vaillancourt Fountain's deceptively static forms.”

Many people love to hate this circa-1971 work of art, conceived by Québécois artist Armand Vaillancourt.

“Utter monstrosity of purposefully unaesthtic material mangling,” said Curbed SF commenter Thomas Goldfinch.

But not everyone feels that way.

Will Bunnett had this to say about the brutal beauty: “I love this fountain with every fiber of my being. In so many contexts, brutalism is code for boring. Here it’s full of life and direction and texture. You can walk through it and interact with it, and it tells a different story from every angle you look at it. If it made sense as a ruinous mirror of the freeway behind it when the freeway was there, it makes even more sense now as a death mask for the freeway long gone.”

Brock Keeling

And ah_so_grasshoppa said: “As a kid, I loved this fountain! I always liked to imagine it as a waterslide and liked to daydream about kids flying in and out of the different chutes. It was also fun to run around the fountain and see the water gushing out from different angles. It was cool to stand in the spot behind the waterfall. With the water off and being an adult, I can see the fountain as being pretty ugly. But it still conjures up the whimsy of childhood for me. Today I’m still thinking about which chute I’d like to fly down.”

No word yet as to how long the fountain will be on. Be sure to check it out at your lunch hour today if you’re in the neighborhood.