Basics of Water in Decorative Fountain Design

Hydraulics: How Water Moves in a Fountain

Water, while simple in its compound of hydrogen oxygen, and commonly known as H2O, is complex when it comes to fluid movement, which ranges from gentle and controlled to torrentially powerful and wildly unpredictable. With this in mind, when designing fountains, designers consider all the possible nuances of water's appearance, sound, and motion. Hydraulics, a branch of physics and engineering, deals with the properties of the practical applications of water in motion; that is, velocities, pressures, and flow patterns associated with water fluidity. The art of fountain design flourishes as hydraulic technology advances. Increasingly spectacular fountain effects are possible as technology perfects the ability to subtly move water in various ways, either by gravity, mechanical methods, pressurized pumps, electrically powered equipment, or, most recently, with the aid of computers. In order to design particular fountain effects, designers have to understand what factors affect the volume and flow of water.

Lessons in fountain designing are learned by observing how water fluctuates in nature or in man-made situations; how water glides smoothly down narrow, straight channels; how the surface ripples when hit by rain drops or objects; how it shimmies and shivers around rocks and other obstacles in its path; how it tumbles the water, creating agitated whitewater; how it changes momentum as it courses through wide or narrow openings; or how it vigorously splashes and crashes. What situations cause water to make noises such as plops, gurgles, trickles, and rushing roars? Knowing how to use the pull of gravity and familiarity with artificial ways to move water upward are part of the repertoire of hydraulics.

From the 16th to the late 18th century's, fountain designers were multitalented individuals, often serving as architects, sculptors, artists, engineer, and cultivated scholar all in one. Leonardo da Vinci exemplified the Renaissance artist as creative genius, inventor, and scientific expert. His immense curiosity about the forces of nature led him to investigate the properties and movement of water, and he methodically recorded his observations in his now celebrated notebooks. Early Italian fountain designers coupled imagination with hydraulic and gardening expertise to transform private villa settings into ingenious water displays full of symbolic meaning and natural beauty. Renowned for his virtuosity in archaeology, architecture, and garden design, the humanist Pirro Ligorio provided the vision behind the splendors in Tivoli. Other fountain designers were well-versed in humanistic subjects and classical scientific texts, masterminding the extraordinary water marbles, water features, and water jokes for the various estates near Florence. Roman architects / engineers Domenico and Giovanni Fontana were responsible for designing Rome's first major public fountain since antiquity, both outlets from Rome's two largest aqueducts.

A broad range of skills, often diplomatic as well as technical, were required to devise ways to retrieve water for fountains from distant sources. The creation of 16th century Italian fountains needed particular kinds of specialized expertise. In addition to that of the designer: the architect -- engineer, today called the hydraulic engineer, who is concerned with the logistics of getting the gross water supply to a garden or public city fountain; and the artisan, who crafted the fountain structure and the plumbing. The technical demands of fountain design projects were such that they were almost always the result of collaboration, and his team approach has survived to our own day. The bigger and more complicated the project more people trained in the first specialized skills are necessary. Yet public recognition of those responsible for realizing the feats of fountain design, construction is traditionally reserved for those who masterminded the project, and the names of the accomplished builders, craftsmen, plumbers, and technicians who were to execute the fountain are often deeply buried, surfacing only occasionally in contracts and financial records.

Although the names of early European fountain designers are rarely known, but few have been singled out for recognition. The talented services of the Italian Curzio Maccarone were highly prized by several wealthy patrons of the 1550’s and 1560’s. He is credited with executing two notable masterpieces: the fountain of Tivoli and the fountain of Rome, or the Rometta. Because the Villa d’ Este included so many elaborate waterworks, many designers were involved in their construction. Some artistsans focused on the task of fashioning a found structure, while others took care maintaining and repairing those that were already completed. Still other specialized in water powered plumbing, such as the French fountain designers LeClerc and Venard, who were employed to create the Tivoli fountains "water organ".

Major hydraulic expertise migrated to France from Italy in 1598, when many of the fountain designers were summoned by Henry IV and his Italian wife to design a great Italian garden for a grand château west of Paris. In France, the innovations greatly influenced French Garden and fountain design. Expertise trickled down to their descendents who continued the family tradition of employing the latest technology when devising unique waterworks for later royal gardens, including those of Versailles.

The primary means of transmitting practical hydraulic information and fountain design ideas throughout Europe and abroad, however, was be a published papers of the day and illustrated books, which contributed to the evolution of scientific technology. A French fountain designer of the late 1500s was an internationally renowned pioneer in hydraulics. He began his career working in Italy, and his expertise in designing gardens, and grottoes with integrated and ingenious water features by Royal commissions in Brussels, London, and Germany. Toward the end of his life, back in France, he wrote a book entitled "The Principles of Moving Forces" which became the fundamental text on hydraulic mechanics and more info engineering. The book not only detailed modern technologies in hydraulics, but also updated key hydraulic discoveries of classical antiquity. Chief among these were the work of Archimedes, the inventor of the water screw as a mechanical means to move water. The book also functions as an illustrated manual demonstrating various ways to make water rise, either through conduits or as a water jet, and showing the behavior of steam and air pressure interacting with water. One illustration shows sunlight heating water in two vessels hidden in a room adjacent to an ornamental fountain. As the heated water expands it rises a close up the pipes leading to the fountain, thereby activating it. The book also included designs for pumps, water wheels, water features, as well as garden ponds.

The principles of moving forces also covered several fountain masterpieces including a marvelous Mount Parnassus Grotto Fountain he designed in the early 1600s as a prominent water feature for a garden in London. This particular fountain was highlighted by a pool about eight feet in diameter, is designed around an artificial mountain made of boulders, sea stones, muscle and snail shells, and accented with shrubs, herbs, and flowers tucked into various nooks and crannies. Garden statues of Apollo and the Muses, each playing a musical instrument, sat near the top. The winged horse Pegasus crowns the peak of Mount Parnassus, from which bring several graceful arcs of water; a reference to the mythological origins of the first fountain caused by Pegasus, tapping his wealth and thereby uncovering a hidden spring, which burst forth. Fed by an elaborate waterworks running from the nearby river Thames, the Mount Parnassus fountain must have enchanted visitors as Apollo and the Muses celebrated the virtues of peace, harmony, nature, and beauty.

In 1626, an equally talented fountain designer named Isaac dominated the garden design field in England. In the 1630s, he created his masterwork for Philip Herbert, fourth Earl of Pembroke, at the fountains and formal gardens of Wilton House in Wiltshire. In 1644 Isaac published "new and rare inventions of water features." A book based on the written text of other fountain designers and centered around a collection of other fountain designs, some of whom were never constructed. This publication is one of the major sources of information transmitting what was known about hydraulics in the Renaissance to later generations of fountain designers and fountain engineers.

A German architect and fountain designer active in the late 1600’s named Georg Andreas Bockler also wrote on the fundamentals of water hydraulics. His book, entitled "curious architecture and the water feature" was illustrated with more than 200 captivating prints, which served as a valuable visual collection documenting inventive fountain ideas, playful water effects, and many fountains known at the time. Since Bockler did not know the fountain marvels in Italy and France firsthand, he relied on prints gathered from all over Europe for information about possible decorative water displays. Many images show various pipe and nozzle systems that spin, jet or spout like ornamental sprinklers on columns and pedestals. There are also prints depicting niche and grotto fountains, and those with water complementing statuary, often with waters pouting from every possible orifice. Bockler inspired his contemporaries and later fountain designers with the book.

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