Fountain Restoration in Tokyo

New and Exciting Challenge

Update 2017 – Project Successfully Completed with Surprises!


Arts Management Services has been asked to restore this Japanese fountain to its original 1929 look.

Sculpture restoration by AMS in Tokyo

The fountain is part of one of the most important properties in the history of U.S. diplomacy.

Built in 1929, it’s among the first residences specifically built as a U.S. ambassador’s home. This is where, at the end of World War II, Emperor Hirohito met with General Douglas MacArthur and renounced his divinity, forever altering the influence of Japan’s imperial family. Apart from historical significance, this quiet residence with its spacious garden sits in the heart of busy Tokyo.

The large circular fountain pool is lined with a distinctive pattern of colorful tile that shimmers in the shallow water. The central bronze urn is believed to have come from an ancient royal temple where large vessels, usually made of wood, catch and conserve rainwater. Its surface is beautifully aged with brilliant shades of orange and green patina.

Tokyo fountain repair

Now it needs some TLC.

The best part about this project is all the fascinating adventures and knowledge in store as I assemble a team of experts to tackle many challenges. I’ll be talking to Japanese artisans to create matching tile, engineers experienced with repairing concrete tunnels damaged by seismic events – Tokyo averages 6 tremors per year – and with plumbers about an unusual way of replacing underground pipe by boring through the soil using water pressure.

Once all the estimates are gathered and final decisions made, we’ll assemble materials, people and equipment for what looks to be a 2-3 week project scheduled for April or May.

While the project proceeds I’ll be stopping briefly along the way to create short videos of the special people involved and the unusual things they’re doing!

I’m writing from Starbucks in Narita Airport, Tokyo about to head home after a 10-day whirlwind tour of embassies and ambassador residences in Manila, Baguio and here. The State Department calls me whenever their art needs some TLC. Great trip. I pinch myself that I get paid for this! Looking forward to returning soon.

Which Restoration Option

Several restoration options are on the table. One involves removing the entire existing surface and replacing it with a very hard 4″ thick ‘bowl’ of reinforced concrete so that when an earthquake occurs, the bowl doesn’t crack but rather moves on its foundation.
Another option is to leave the existing structure intact and just replace the cracked tile. If we can’t find tile replacements I will create concrete facsimiles from a silicone mold and paint them to blend in with existing and original tiles of soft green, blue, black, orange and white.
Now that I’ve seen the fountain and spoken with several knowledgeable and helpful embassy staff, it’s time to start researching the options and finding out what they’ll cost. Then I submit the ideas and estimates to Jim Wenzel back in Washington, DC, whose team is known as the Office of Cultural Heritage (CH) of the Office of Buildings Overseas (OBO) of the US Department of State.
This busy team of 6 overseas all the art, antiques, historic buildings and gifts owned by our government. Jim will decide which option is best.
Which one do I prefer? At the moment I’m most intrigued by the idea of coming up with a way to just allow cracks to happen and replacing tiles as needed. The challenge is to find a simple way to do it that also stops water from leaking – fresh water is an expensive commodity in Tokyo and an increasingly important focus of conservation all over the world.
Once the decision has been made I assemble the team to carry out the work and join them in Tokyo, hopefully in time to see the cherry blossoms.

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