From the Latin “fontis”, which simply means water spring, source, fount – what lies behind its unfaltering popularity in the landscape of modern cities and estates? Why, despite ubiquitous access to clean drinking water in our sphere of civilization, do we still build more fountains, often establishing them as a significant, if not central, point of urban development and garden layouts?
Culture, religion, civilization
Roman fountains are one of the most important features of the Eternal City's landscape, without which it would be difficult for one to imagine the style of the Italian capital’s squares. As they built the aqueducts, Roman engineers created the atmosphere that characterizes this city. Strictly speaking, fountains are the terminations of those ancient aqueducts, supplying drinking water and entertainment for residents and enabling care for hygiene and aesthetics in the gigantic European metropolis at the time. Fountains, Roman baths, or more broadly speaking, access to clean water are undoubtedly a determinant of civilization, and so it is to this day. Clean drinking water straight from taps, parks with fountains or waterholes remain a true wonder of civilization and culture despite seeming so commonplace in the majority of European countries.
Running water, making it possible to care for hygiene, was an excess in the Middle Ages, seen only in a scant few noble courts in Europe. It was the caliphate in Grenada at the time, with its gardens and fountains, baths and universities that set the standards that seem so obvious to us all today. The water spouting from the fountains on Bosch’s paintings was a symbol of the garden of Paradise, and its religious aspect has been described in various works by anthropologists of culture. In the Eastern gardens of India, China and Japan, fountains and waterfalls served to support the meditational role of parks and gardens, which remain a symbol of Buddhism and Japanese Zen even today.
Palaces from ages past, gardens of factory owners (Poznański’s palace in Łódź, a perfectly eclectic work of art with such a garden and its fountain) as well as modern villas and estates – without waterholes, fountains, ponds, they would be incomplete in both their symbolic aspects and from the practical perspective of daily life, particularly with regard to rest and self-development.
The fountain as an art form
Today, it is worth thinking about fountains as works of art through which water flows, bringing its beneficial, soothing effect to its environment.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that, just as centuries ago, the sculpted form of fountains was the determinant of the style of the given epoch and their owners’ taste, they serve the same functions today and are limited solely by the imagination of architects and the courage and openness of investors.
While browsing architectural forums or those concerning modern garden design, one can observe that many offers relate to classical fountain forms, which are beautiful, but archaic in terms of sculpture. This is not meant to criticize the current state, but rather to highlight and understand that many people want to restore the grandeur of palaces and villas centuries past in the designs of their own households. This is in no way different from the desire of certain designers, collectors and property owners to have furniture or functional art from the times of: Louis XIV, the Roman empire or in the Art Noveau style.
On the other hand, modern fountain designs pose extraordinary challenges to architects. References to modern sculptures, functional art, modern, avant-garde creations, from surrealist to constructivist and minimalist designs, modeled on the painting of the greatest masters of the 20th century.
A source of national remembrance, a binder of identity
Fountains are also used as monuments commemorating historical events or people who were important to a given community. In this way, they become a dream for socially engaged architects, who seek to satisfy the needs of modern residents by honoring past heroes and vice versa – to satisfy the need for community by providing people with respite and a natural component in the city and by supporting unity through symbols and monuments. Even at the most serious national level. We have often heard calls for public spaces intended as sites for monuments to be useful to the public, not just barren spaces for monuments of often mediocre artistic value. A fountain can solve many problems related to diverging expectations in subject matter as delicate as that of national commemoration.
The small architecture currently discussed at great length among architects and residents who love their cities is becoming a determinant of otherness, the nature of a given city or place, and even a symbol. Here, let us recollect the fantastic career of “Tuwim’s Bench”, which is currently a symbol of Łódź just as recognizable as Warsaw’s siren.
Fountains, specifically, architectural water installations combined with something that one could call city gardens, so-called urban furniture, playgrounds, with elements of interior decoration, park gyms, may become just such a symbol of a city and even a tourist attraction. This is certainly the case with Warsaw's Multimedia Fountain Park on the Vistula river or the fountains of Elbląg, which are used as an advertisement on the city's website, encouraging people to take strolls along the route of these structures.
Peace, harmony, recreation
Fountain shows with music, smoke and light arranged in a multimedia spectacle are a classic example of how to satisfy mankind's natural need to consort with nature, symbolized by water, art and beauty in the company of other people.
Such fountains are modern, electronically managed water devices that hold value in and of themselves, creating the aesthetic of an urban space, a specific egalitarian beauty accessible to all regardless of status and cultural awareness.
They can be the most exquisite decoration, but that doesn’t mean that they are devoid of useful functions, and at the least, they support such functions. The imposing fountain in one of Warsaw’s most modern shopping malls, Blue City, plays such a role. By creating a warm, friendly interior, it symbolically highlights the peace and security that we desire, so that we can feel good in a place where people are concentrated, which is rather stressful by its very nature. This causes customers to spend more time at such place, and in consequence, to make purchases more often.
In shopping malls, such spaces have replaced the city markets and parks of old. Rebel as we may against such a role of shopping malls in smaller cities, the fact remains that these are socially significant places, not only in a commercial sense, and fountains or indoor gardens play an important part of this function. To use the Manufaktura in Łódź as an example, we can talk about total replacement of the former city agora with a commercial and community space – the fountains delimiting the main strolling alley of Poznański's former plants are an important part of the Manufaktura for a reason.
Modern companies, both large and developing, are often aware of how important it is for a workplace to have a prestigious and austere nature, to contain beauty and to make the impression of a living, natural space. Work in close proximity to flowing water really supports employees’ creativity and comfort.
Technology in service of tradition
Technology is also an important aspect of modern fountains. One can confidently say that technical capabilities – modern pumps, hydraulic and electronic control of water consumption and eruption power – provide unlimited possibilities in terms of adapting the offer, designs and engineering knowledge to the imaginations of the clients who are ordering the fountain. In this case, imagination is the key word. It is the taste and vision of the owner or the collective consciousness of the community that should be reflected in fountains, which is why they are ordered by urban architects, city mayors, governors, private investors, company bosses or owners of private property alike.