Even if you’re toting around a reusable water bottle and trying to avoid adding to the billions of plastic bottles that get trashed each year, it’s not always easy to grab a refill when you’re out and about: Public water fountains are rare in many cities and are often unappealing where they do exist. A recent design challenge in London aimed at reversing that asked six architecture firms to design new fountains for neighborhoods. Their visions would make any city a lot more fun and a lot less thirsty.
“For an alternative to bottled water to work, people need to feel confident when they leave the house that they will be able to find water fountains,” says Maria Smith, a director at Studio Weave, one of the firms invited to participate in the challenge. “Fountains should be in clearly visible locations, at strategic junctions in the urban fabric.”
Studio Weave’s design, a blue-and-white pole covered in plants, is tall enough to serve as a landmark. Each “watering pole” is a different height, depending on surrounding buildings and the landscape, and can be seen from a distance.
Like several of the other designs, it’s also intended to be a place where people might want to linger. “A key consideration when providing public drinking fountains is to ensure they feel inviting and clean, like mini urban oases,” Smith says.
A huge bell-shaped fountain from Hopkins Architects, another participating firm, is designed as a gathering spot, as is a swooping fountain and pool from Zaha Hadid Architects. Eric Parry Architects proposed water fountains around a building that could host a coffeeshop or newsstand–exactly the kind of place where someone might normally buy bottled water.
Each of the monumental designs is covered in tile, since that was one of the requirements; the challenge, hosted by Architects’ Journal, was sponsored by a Turkish organization called turkishceramics that promotes the Turkish tile industry. That’s actually pretty appropriate–tiled “kiosks” dispensing free water in public have been around in Turkey since the 17th century.
The designs are on display now in an exhibit at the Building Centre in London. And even though they were originally designed as concepts, there’s a chance they’ll actually end up on London streets. In 2008, London mayor Boris Johnson promised to replace bottled water with new drinking fountains, and though that hasn’t happened yet–there’s still only one fountain for every 100,000 Londoners–city officials have already expressed interest in building these designs.
Could something like this work in the United States? It’s sometimes more likely here for water fountains to be taken out than added. The Cleveland Cavaliers tore out all of the fountains in their arena in 2010 because of the fear of spreading disease, though they later caved to public pressure and put the fountains back. Fountains have a reputation as grimy, neglected fixtures. But maybe people would see them differently if they lost their usual utilitarian design.