Monthly Archives: October 2010

Words I found interesting at ACADIA 2010, NYC

Well, I found most things interesting at ACADIA 2010, but these ones in particular grabbed my attention….


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Royal Parks Fountain Competition

Here was our submission to this very interesting competition:

Design Team:

Daniel Hambleton/Crispin Howes/David Lieberman

“That no fountain be erected or promoted by the Association which shall not be so constructed as to ensure by filters, or other suitable means, the perfect purity and coldness of the water.”

                                                                      The Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association 1859

The provision of fresh drinking water has an important history in the City of London, a history shared by Liverpool, Sydney, Australia, and Portland, Oregon all of whom have sought to provide their citizenry with the most basic of necessity .  Fons  or fontis, meaning fountain or more importantly source;  the first settlements in many cultures and in many parts of the world had their origins as a shared space, the village square, the place of the well, the source, the spring, and the fountain.  Water was the necessity of sustenance and the square was the space of community, the space of congregation and gathering for discourse and transaction.  Water is no less necessary and no less symbolic in the cities of the contemporary world, and to provide that resource in the illusory nature of the urban park is a reminder of its source and the responsibilities to the maintenance of the natural world.  Water is also the material of ablution, both physical and spiritual and the lens of contemplative reflection.

The proposed collection of drinking fountains evolves from the prototype as drawn; drinking fountains calibrated in height to the range of access from the standing adult to the small child with provision for those less physically able without compromise.  The multiple machined arms of stainless steel rise from a machine carved or milled stone dish which catches the overflow to provide for the pets of the visitors to the Parks.  The  base is equipped with a valve control to the drain maintaining a bowl that is always full.  The arcing water jets are activated by pressure sensors at each fountain head or nozzle with pressure governors to ensure a constant flow accessible to drink or to fill a vessel, a water bottle or flask.  It should be noted that the tallest variant allows for a full gown adult to stand and drink; most conventional drinking fountains require an awkward bending of the spine to an uncomfortable height in order to drink.  The fountain as presented is a composite of many arms; installations throughout the parks can be limited to a single fountain and modified to accommodate site or installation conditions.

Materials are chosen for longevity, durability, and the most stringent of health standards.  The moulding,  shaping,  welding, and fastening of the stainless steel including the specific alloy composition and finish employ fabrication techniques used in the healthcare industry in supplying hospitals and laboratories.  Plumbing fittings and valves are modifications of existing available technologies and products. The base is an as yet to be determined non porous stone; it should be noted that synthetic or composites will be considered providing  a secure weighty base concealing a below ground set of plumbing connections and valves with a tooled access for seasonal shut off.  Preliminary discussions with fabricators suggest that prototyping an initial installation is within the requirements of the competition budget parameters and that that the machining of dies and molds for fabrication of multip0les will result in an affordable set of variations on the initial proposal.

The design is playful and graceful echoing the lines by the water it provides and with its reflective surface echoing the subtle excitement and brightness of its refreshing and sustaining elixir. Although delicate in its form,  the intent is to create an iconic presence and recognizable and tempting, or subtle seductive identity beckoning visitors to pause and to drink at the source.

“we have come to the fountain, I no longer need to look for water”

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2010 Britton Lectures @ McMaster University

Gerhard Huisken was this year’s choice for the Britton Lectures – an annual series of talks given by a distinguished researcher working in the field of mathematics. Dr. Huisken’s topic this year had to do with measuring the mass of gravitational system (planets orbiting around each other, orbiting around a black hole, etc…).

It was pretty intense….

I will not try to summarize, mainly because I can’t, but I do think that the setting for this type of research is worth mentioning. For starters, the bulk of the research deals with how things flow along a given surface, and flows, or more generally vector fields, come up absolutely everywhere. Recall that a “flow” can be represented as a vector (something with magnitude and direction) associated to every point on a surface. Essentially this just means that if you are walking along a surface (could be curved, could be flat, could have holes, etc…), the flow tells you at every point where to go and how fast to get there. More complicated flows will have things called sinks and sources, otherwise known as singularities. Think of water draining out of your bathtub… 

The really interesting thing is that the effect of a singularity can be described in terms of the geometry of the space that it is acting on. Take the bathtub example: you could describe the flow of water analytically by attaching to every point in the tub the direction and magnitude of the water flow, with some fairly complicated stuff happening at the drain, or you could imagine that the water is simply flowing quite naturally, but that the surface that it is flowing on looks something like this:

 One of Huisken’s results is that if you were to replace the drain of your bathtub with a black hole, then the horizon of that black hole, i.e. the region of space from which no part of the flow can escape, is a minimal surface. Moreover, he proposed a method of actually finding this minimal surface. Which is pretty astounding.

 So while I’m not totally sure how such relativistic inquiries translate into architectural objects, many of the techniques and resulting forms seem to at least suggest an application.

In any case, it was a fascinating talk by a leading researcher and a very good way to spend a Friday afternoon.

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