The widely criticised design of the public water fountains that are set to be installed across London was decided by focus groups, says Thames Water, which oversaw the design process.
Thames Water told Dezeen that they used public focus groups to settle on the design, which was created by “international specialists”. However, the water fountains have drawn criticism from critics and designers.
The fountains feature a white plastic column with the central section removed to house a metal spout and drain. A large model of a blue drop of water sits on the top of the fountain, to make it “stand out”.
Provided by Thames Water and the London mayor’s office, the fountains will be placed in 100 locations around the UK capital.
Various designs run past focus groups
Architecture critic of the Financial Times, Edwin Heathcote was one of many to speak out against the design, tweeting, “Jesus, who on earth designed this?”
The distinctive fountain was manufactured and distributed by the UK’s largest water cooler providers, MIW, in collaboration with Thames Water and the Mayor’s Office.
The eventual design of the blue and white plastic water fountains was chosen from a set of options designed by unspecified international specialists.
“We ran a few different options through some focus groups,” explained Thames Water senior media relations officer Becky Trotman.
“The one that we’ve eventually gone with was the one that was the favourite with those various people that were involved with the consultation.”
Accessibility was a key factor
According to Thames Water the fountains were designed to look distinct from other street furniture and be instantly recognisable.
“Blue is a colour that’s associated with water, and we wanted something that would stand out,” said Trotman.
“Obviously these fountains are going in places of very high footfall. So we wanted something that would be eye-catching and that people would be able to find easily.”
A crucial factor in the design was to make the fountains usable for both the able-bodied and those with disabilities.
“We wanted to make them accessible for people with disabilities, so not something that’s very high up off the ground,” added Trotman.
“They have to be space-saving, so obviously not something that has a large footprint, bearing in mind that London’s pretty congested as it is,” she continued.
Criticism of the design on social media
On social media the designs have been widely criticised with research group Create Streets tweeted that the fountains demonstrate that “we have lost any sense of civic pride”, and compared the design negatively to Victorian examples.
However, Thames Water stressed that most people are pleased to have free drinking water available across the city.
“The majority of the feedback that we’ve had is that people are glad there’s a resource there for them to be able to access free tap water on the go rather than having to buy bottled water and contribute to plastic waste,” said Trotman.
“You’re never going to be able to come up with a design for anything that completely satisfies everyone.”
The fountains are set to be rolled out at a rate of roughly one or two a week. The positions of the first 50 have been announced, with locations including at Blackfriars and East Croydon stations. The next 50 spots will be announced in due course.
London has been waiting a long time for the return of public water fountains. Back in 2014, six architecture studios including Zaha Hadid Architects and Studio Weave came up with designs for water fountains for sites across London.