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The Plaza at the Muhammad Ali Center has been open for months now and if you haven’t been downtown to visit yet… well… you’re missing out. You’re also missing the Jarfi’s Cafe which recently opened just off the lobby with outdoor seating serving sandwiches and sushi to the lunch crowd from 10:30 til 2:00 p.m. However, you won’t be missing the centerpiece of the lush plaza, a glass fountain with 48 irregular glass columns, as it has yet to be permanently turned on.

In fact, the fountain has seen only 2 days of actual use in early May around the time of the Kentucky Derby before it was grounded for technical reasons. Apparently, they cannot find the right sealant to keep the water from bursting at the seams, a small nuisance for such an elaborate display. And pricing in at over $480,000, the fountain sits empty as simply an interesting piece of sculpture. Luckily for you, the Broken Sidewalk was there on those early glory days to snap a few photos of the fountain running and gleaming with water.

Muhammad Ali Center Star Fountain
Muhammad Ali Center Star Fountain. (Branden Klayko / Broken Sidewalk)

The Ali Center Plaza is actually a series of fountains running through its multiple levels. A waterfall at the highest level collects in a pool and then cascades through a limestone amphitheater before pouring into the main glass spiral fountain at the base. The upper waterfall and amphitheater cascade were turned on last week, so there is now some water to be seen on the plaza. The whole effect is meant to evoke the poetry of Muhammad Ali’s life.

Here’s how the Ali Center describes their plaza:

The Plaza’s design is both thought-provoking and purposeful. The water that flows from the upper level through the amphitheater to the lower level—gaining speed and energy as it goes—symbolizes the cumulative force of Muhammad Ali’s influence, from the individuals he has touched to the world at large.

Muhammad Ali Center Star Fountain
Muhammad Ali Center Star Fountain. (Branden Klayko / Broken Sidewalk)

The main fountain was designed by Washington D.C. artist Athena Tacha and fabricated by local Ken von Roenn, Jr. of Architectural Glass Art. All elements of the plaza respond to an overall spiral reflected in the paving which culminates at the main fountain and its 12 foot tall center. Each glass column was custom made with a cast texture of random indentations. Filled with water and aerated with tiny bubbles, the water cascades over the tops and ripples along the columns’ irregular surface. We’re not talking about a trickle here, either; with a good wind you can feel the spray of water associated with more traditional fountains.

At night, colored lights built into the fountain base change colors and bring a dynamic presence to the plaza. The peaceful sounds of cascading water coming from all directions on the plaza combined with the gentle pulsing colors make for a pleasant evening sitting back on the limestone amphitheater steps and watching the sunset’s shadows fall over the Beyer Blinder Belle–designed main building. For those briefs few days in early summer, the Ali Center shined like never before. We hope the technical difficulties of the fountain can be soon remedied so the glory days can return once more.

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Branden Klayko

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