Iconic fountains, like Rome’s Trevi Fountain or the colourful, dancing jets of the Bellagio in Las Vegas, are must-see attractions that pull in thousands of visitors a day. However, clever designers and artists have constructed successful water features that go beyond ornamental fountains.
We look at some of the best examples from public spaces around the world, that showcased heritage, creativity and carefree play.
The most beloved public water features are undoubtedly made to play with, like Boston’s Rings Fountain, dubbed “the most unconditionally happy spot” in the whole city. Located at the heart of the Rose Kennedy Greenway - a park where millions flock to annually - the fountain features 64 nozzles that shoot water up in the air. The circles of vertical water attract delighted children, who dodge the jets and run through the curtains of water.
In the evening, enjoy the fountain’s gracefully choreographed light shows; 156 energy-efficient LED lights give off spectacular hues of colour that are sure to take your breath away. The popular fountain complements the downtown Boston experience that includes world-class art, great food and drink options, as well as the beautiful surrounding gardens.
On the opposite side of the world, Sydney’s Darling Quarter Playground, one of the city’s busiest, allows children not only to play with water but interact with the supporting structure. Seamlessly combining art, fun and function, the playground’s water park stimulates young minds and bodies in a multitude of ways.
There is a large, rectangular shallow pool for children to dip and splash in, as well as tiles laid across, perfect to leapfrog from one end to the other. Then there are huge water pipes, water scoopers and Archimedes water screws to mess around with. To top it off, water dams allow children to become engineers for the day by operating the mechanisms by themselves via seven water switches, five water gates and a water wheel.
Water is an essential element for Arabo-Persian gardens for centuries now; from the mythological Hanging Gardens of Babylon extending to the Islamic tradition. Wonderful variations on this form continue to exist to this very day, stretching from Spain, through Morocco and Egypt, all the way east to India.
The breath-taking Fin Garden in Kashan, Iran, is a UNESCO Heritage Site that embodies the Persian Garden archetype with water as a core constituent. Built in 1590, the garden consists of a quadrilateral-shaped structure divided by water features. Water exists here in a myriad of forms: still, flowing, erupting and boiling.
Calm the chatter in your mind with all the classic water features of a Persian Garden: tranquil reflective pools, gurgling water channels, trickles and cascades, including water flowing down from a long, thin rectangular trough into a much bigger pool below. A particularly popular attraction for visitors strolling through the lush grounds are the 40 bubbling fountains, located amidst pavilions, fruit trees, flowers and a palace.
Further east, the water gardens of Bali are a different prospect. In Balinese Hinduism - often referred to locally as “The Religion of the Holy Water” - water is the foundation of prosperity and integral to many religious ceremonies. Water is also the foundation of life; the backbone of Bali’s economy by underpinning irrigation, agriculture and recreation.
The majestic water palace of Tirta Gangga is an exceptional example. The courtyards with three levels each contain water features, fountains and sculptures of various sizes and designs to reflect the different worlds.
There are all kinds of mythological creatures surrounding water pools, such as an ornate boar with water pouring out of its mouth. Meanwhile, the Mahabharata Pond is laid out with octagonal stepping stones that allow visitors to walk across its surface and admire large koi fish in the crystal-clear waters. Then there is the magnificent 11-tier Nawa Sanga Fountain at the entrance, which resembles a lotus and represents the deity, Shiva. Yet it is rendered in a Victorian style, reflecting the cosmopolitan cultural exchanges within Balinese royal society.
Japanese designer Noguchi Isamu’s knack of turning something simple into a work of art is on full display with his Nine Floating Fountains in Osaka.
Noguchi’s huge, soaring structures hover over pools of water as if launched into the air by water-jet propulsion. Originally conceived for the 1970 World’s Fair, his gravity-defying creations are among the most famous modern fountains in the world.
Even more monumental is Shui Shui Pavilion in Kaohsiung Harbour, Taiwan. The sprawling 376 square metre concrete canyon was made by local designers and completed in 2018. Featuring 18-metre and 36-metre-long undulating concrete walls, the structure emits a cooling fog at regular time intervals.
Adults and children alike take great joy in wandering through the winding and misty paths within this ethereal world. Within this landscape installation, our perception of the world is mediated by the fog; every step is tentative as the senses are dampened and the way ahead is unclear as nature and artifice come together without clear boundaries. The place is especially mesmerising at night as the whole structure becomes a gentle night light for the city.
Beyond the dreamlike atmosphere, the fog also recalls the nearby sea and doubles as a cooling mechanism that offers respite in a hot and humid tropical city.
Though smaller in scale, Antonin Fourneau’s ‘Water Light Graffiti’ installations are equally delightful and interactive. Inspired by Chinese calligraphy techniques, the work consists of a large rectangular wall containing thousands of LED lights, which illuminate upon contact with water. Delighted pedestrians walking past are invited to make their mark by any manner of tools, such as paintbrush, spray bottle, bucket or simply damp fingers to draw on the wall. The wetter it is, the brighter the “painting”.
Originally set up in 2012 in Poitiers, France, it has since inspired spin-offs around the world, including Dubai and the USA.
Slider 3: By Diego Delso, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=52053899
Slider 5 & Thumbnail: https://www.architecturaldigest.com/gallery/most-beautifully-designed-public-fountains