Rensselaer Libraries

The Water Sculpture

Posted: Feb 9, 2017

water sculpture

Arching from the third floor of the Folsom Library up through the fourth floor, a unique and beautiful stainless steel water sculpture can be found. The stainless steel sculpture is composed of two tall cylinders -- one which is inlaid with a depiction of the Hudson River through which water flows, and a second containing a red neon light beam - and a basin in the shape of New York State.

Mrs. Margaret Jonsson, wife of former Chairman of the Board of Trustees and prominent benefactor J. Erik Jonsson '22, came up with the idea and presented the sculpture to the Institute on October 6, 1978. It was selected by a group of designs reviewed by a committee headed by then Dean of Architecture Patrick Quinn. At the dedication, Quinn explained that the sculpture is intended to depict two achievements of twentieth-century man - stainless steel and neon lighting, combined with the two achievements of nature - water and light.


Mrs. Jonsson's wish to provide creativity and visual excitement in the Folsom Library led to the commission of architect Charles Willard Moore (1925-1993). The May 1979 issue of American Institute of Architects Journal noted that "This fountain tends toward pure forms, supposed to represent the four elements, into which the regional specifics have been clawed, like the Hudson River which etches down the pristine stainless tube representing water. The base stands for earth, the hot red neon tube for fire, and air, presumably for air."

water sculpture

Moore's interest in water in architecture began with his Princeton Ph.D. dissertation on "Water in Architecture." In one of his essays, he wrote "Flowing water speaks of time and sometimes of delight, of splash and sparkle and cool breezes and human comfort." Moore designed many fountains during his career, including one for the famous Piazza d'Italia in New Orleans designed just prior to designing the one in the Folsom Library. He was awarded the American Institute of Architects' Gold Medal in 1991.

Want to read more about Charles Moore? Try the following books available in the Architecture Library on the third floor of the Greene Building:

You can also read about Moore at these websites:

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