On Water Feature and Fountain
A well designed fountain should integrate physical
structure, water behavior and sound into a unified and coherent whole. The
fountain should "make sense" with each element having a reason for being a part
of the work.
Sound should be actively considered as a part of fountain
design. Fountain sound should not be perceived as "noise" nor should it fight
the dynamic movement of water in the fountain.
Water movement should be purposeful. If the fountain is
thematic, the water movement should relate to the theme.
As with all good art, a good fountain should evoke an
emotional mood and connection in receptive viewers and should express
The water feature or fountain must "read" as a unified
statement and "stand alone" on its own merit when integrated with its
A well-designed fountain should remain fresh to the eye and
ear. Ideally, every time one looks at a fountain, one should see and hear
something new, sometimes centering, sometimes provocative, sometimes even
surprising. Metaphorically, viewing a fountain should be like searching for
enlightenment by perceiving the world uniquely at every moment, the viewer
flowing with time while remaining in the present.
Like the Japanese Tea Ceremony, fountain design can be a
subtle dance between making a statement that many can simply enjoy while
stimulating a few to relate to the work on a number of deeper levels.
Water in Architectural
When you look at a fountain, what are you aware of? Are you
aware of the physical design of the fountain, what the water does, how the
fountain sounds, or how the fountain relates to its architectural setting? Or
are you simply aware of the overall statement of the fountain, buildings and
setting as a unified whole? Or - because it all works - are just unaware
and simply experiencing mindlessly?
Many of the fountains in our environment are "just there".
Many splash onto circulation spaces, employ materials that discolor and stain
due to exposure and water impurities, and cry out for maintenance. Many are
simply banal; many more are incongruous and just don't make any sense either in
terms of location, context, or execution.
A vast majority of the fountains we encounter around the
world have themes that have been used for so many hundreds of years that the
absurdity of much of the imagery doesn't even register. What mental imagery is
water flowing from the mouths of lions, cherubs, putti, dolphins, birds, and
the like supposed to evoke? Kitsch themes abound in fountain design and quite
apparently have abundant historical precedents.
So many fountains are poorly designed and built, improperly
filtered and non-maintained that many end up as non-functional eye-sores until
they either magically transform themselves into planters or are demolished and
carted to the landfill. One of the givens in the real world is that if
something is not easy to maintain it generally won't be maintained.
Is there a rational approach to incorporating water in our
environments? One overarching principal is that in an ideal world the fountain
or water feature design should be an integral part of the architectural and
landscape design process. This is not always possible and in many cases water
elements are considered only after the project is completed or when renovation
What follows are just a few ways of thinking about
incorporating water in an architectural setting. There is no one right way.
What seems to be the case is that when it's right, you know it, your viewers
know it, and it simply "works".
Water as a Unifying Element
Especially in large projects consisting of several buildings
to be built in a uniform style, water can be used to visually tie the separate
structures together. In this context one can design water elements to be visual
"threads" that are metaphorically woven through the planned space. In this
context the water "threads" can be used to delineate circulation space and to
define branching points between different structures.
Water as a Complement to
In this paradigm the water feature or fountain would
architecturally mirror the building architecture. For instance if the
architectural style is minimalist, the fountain would be minimalist and
stylistically integrate with the building architecture. As another example, if
the building design were traditional Spanish/Moorish, the fountain could carry
out the Spanish/Moorish theme in style, shape, texture, and materials.
Complementary design is the simplest approach to merging water and
architecture. The only pitfall is that a slight deviation from a one-to-one
design correspondence might be visually jarring. Many examples of this exist
where ersatz "Moorish" fountains are placed in quasi-Spanish style residences
only to look like they don't quite belong.
Water as a Contrast to Architectural
Contrasting water with architecture can be tricky but
examples exist where such a mix works. A notable example is the Getty Center in
Los Angeles, designed by Richard Meier. Artist Robert Irwin's Central Garden at
the Getty contrasts wildly with Meier's architectural and landscape aesthetic
but is a spectacular success. The garden incorporates a meandering abstracted
stream bed, a waterfall, a pond and plantings that are changed with the
seasons. The garden and water treatments become a foil to soften and contrast
with Meier's architectural style. Whereas Meier chose to emphasize the
expansive views from the Getty's mountain-top site, Erwin's design visually
brings the viewer inward. Erwin's water treatment unifies the garden and
auditorially softens the architecture. Somewhat surprisingly, Erwin's garden
and Meier's architecture do not fight each other but instead give us two
separate experiences in the same space. Contrast become complement.
Water as an Integral Element in
There are many examples of inside-outside residential design
where water unifies the transition of inside to outside - either explicitly or
Frank Lloyd Wright's Falling Water in Pennsylvania
strategically placed the residence over a natural waterfall.
At the 1939 New York World Fair the Italian Pavilion had a
formal cascading waterfall integrated into the front facade of the building.
The front of the Electrical Utilities Building had a walk-through waterfall as
the building's entrance. In fact, water features were an integral part of many
of the corporate buildings and public spaces of that most visionary World Fair.
One can consider a garden room with water walls defining the
room's perimeter; or a room with clear walls of cascading sheets of water. In
these later examples, water defines space and in essence becomes a part of the
architectural statement. Do other examples come to mind?
Water as a Focal Point in
Architectural and Landscape Design
A water feature can act as a focal point in a residential,
commercial, or industrial development. It can anchor a street and even be
integrated into roadway design. One example to control traffic flow is the
linear water feature in Los Angeles' Century City used functionally and
aesthetically to separate northbound and southbound traffic. Do other examples
come to mind?
Fountain design is a natural arena for exploiting green
technology. Given cost constraints, novel power technologies coupled with
feature effects that maximize performance while tending to minimize water use
and power requirements, are becoming increasingly feasible. In some cases solar
driven-pumps can be considered for intermittent small-scale water effects such
as pump-driven spray nozzles to aerate a pond.
It goes without saying that because water resources are
diminishing in many parts of the world, environmentally conscious water use is
becoming a practical necessity. It thus becomes imperative for the fountain
designer to consider minimizing water loss by at the very least considering
evaporative losses as part of the design process.
It may be that in the near future outdoor water features
and even swimming pools in new home construction will be banned or severely
limited in many regions of the United States and abroad. In this case indoor
water fountains can become a way to still connect with water in our home
Indoor water fountains can be designed to evaporatively
cool and increase humidity in the living space. Scotty's Castle in Death
Valley, California did that very thing in the 1920's - so this concept is
nothing new. Also indoor fountains need not be small, tabletop statements.
Several of our indoor art fountains in our
gallery make the point. Especially
with our patented control technologies, the indoor fountain can become a
dynamic design element whether placed in an entry or in a living space. The
same but never the same - it's only for the viewer to watch and realize the
text copyright © 2008-2012 Gary
copyright © 2006-2012 Fountain Kinetics