The New Fountain Manifesto

I’d love to get paid to design fountains. It’s because I find most of the ones I see very boring. The vast majority of fountains in Western culture are based on pressure-driven flows, which basically gives rise to a one-parameter family of shapes (jets of a certain radius) in the actual fluid on display. Sometimes they’re made to look fancy by arranging the jets themselves into particular shapes or emerging from attractive fixtures, but the flow itself — and the information conveyed by the flow — is very boring. Pressure gradients inherently lack the natural aesthetic of other types of fluid mechanics. In the absence of turbulent features (which change the opacity of the fluid, leading to whitewater and other minor visual effects), the human eye can only detect flow properties in a thin film near the surface of the fluid bulk, and is not very adept at gauging relative flow speeds. When we look into a river, the visual cues are often in fluid-structure interaction: fish, kelp, sediment. Furthermore, the human eye does not have much of a mechanism for recognizing continuum stress.

I have been working with designer and fellow fluid mechanician Joseph Burg from Berkeley on several fountains which bypass this rather unfortunate monopoly of laminar pressure-driven flows. We try to put non-Newtonian rheology, optics of liquid crystals and Marangoni flows, and fluid-elastic interactions on display. You can find some of our work here. If you are interested in discussing these kinds of ideas, or suggesting/commissioning some work of this time, please don’t hesitate to drop Joe or me a line!


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