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Design Philosophy

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 "intent".

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 Settings

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?

For many of the fountains in our environment the answer to these questions is "none of the above" . Many fountains 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.

It seems that for many of the fountains we see in our gardens, malls, and commercial spaces the directive must have been "put a fountain over there and keep the costs down". So many fountains get poorly built or to save money are purchased inexpensively from building supply stores. Inadequately designed, improperly filtered and maintained, many end up as non-functional eye-sores until they either magically transform into planters or are demolished and carted to the landfill.

So how should fountain design in an architectural /landscape context ideally be done? It goes without saying that water is becoming a scarce commodity and environmentally conscious energy use is becoming a practical and meaningful mantra. Thus as a given, the fountain designer should consider water utilization, evaporative losses, and energy issues in the design process.

Fountain design is a natural 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 should be considered. As with any well-conceived system, the fountain or feature should be designed for maintainability. One of the givens in the real world is that if something is not easy to maintain it generally won't be maintained.

In designing for specific environments the fountain or water feature should integrally relate to the overall architectural and landscape context in which it is to be incorporated and should ideally be a part of the architectural and landscape design process. At the same time the water feature or fountain itself must "read" as a unified statement and "stand alone" on its own merit. This is a sometimes difficult gestalt to realize given practical constraints.


text copyright © 2008 Gary Fisher
copyright © 2006-2008 Fountain Kinetics

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