100 Fountains will revive New York City’s esteemed public drinking culture

City Terrain Design East Urbanism
A drinking fountain on the High Line (Eden, Janine and Jim / Flickr)

A drinking fountain on the High Line (Eden, Janine and Jim / Flickr)

Water, water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink.
—Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Though New York has the some of the cleanest municipal tap water, New Yorkers now consume 1.25 billion bottles of water annually. A contributing factor to the rise in bottled water consumption is the decline in the number of public drinking fountains. New York–based Pilot Projects would like to revive the grand tradition of public bubblers through a novel design/build competition.

Bottled water awaiting distribution (Cheltenham Borough Council / Flickr)

Bottled water awaiting distribution (Cheltenham Borough Council / Flickr)

Pilot Project’s 100 Fountains competition, launched September of this year, will tap artists and designers to build 100 fountains citywide in 2016. Each participant receives $5,000 to develop his or her team’s design. According to the project proposal, the competition area will be divided into 30–40 zones, with two or three fountains per zone. The public judging period starts June 2016 and runs through September 2016.

The original fountains will be auctioned off for charity, and ten designs from the pool will be chosen and duplicated for permanent installation at to-be-determined locations citywide.

In 2012, Pilot Projects hosted a campaign to raise awareness around the lack of drinking fountains. In the video above, passerbys in Union Square traipse over a red carpet to a (pre-existing, functioning) fountain operated by white-gloved servers.

Map of potential fountain locations (Courtesy Pilot Projects)

Map of potential fountain locations (Courtesy Pilot Projects)

Per a 2007 zoning text amendment, the Department of City Planning (DCP) requires a fountain in every newly-built Privately Owned Public Space (POPS). The report suggests that, in lieu of vending machines offering sweetened beverages and bottled water, designers should incorporate public drinking fountains into the POPS.

To justify their economic reason-for-being, 100 Fountains points to large-scale public art installations that overtook city streets in the late 1990s and 2000s: Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s The Gates, Olafur Eliasson’s New York City Waterfalls, and CowParade. The economic impacts of these project were estimated in the tens to hundreds of millions of dollars. 100 Fountains also takes direct inspiration from the Minneapolis Arts Commission. The commission highlighted Minneapolis’ connection to surrounding rivers and lakes by installing ten custom fountains to celebrate the city’s 150th anniversary.

Pilot Projects will partner with the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs, the Department of Education, Office of the Arts and Special Projects, as well as Yale University’s Environmental Protection Clinic and Parsons The New School For Design to carry out the project.

Expect to see fountains on the streets beginning June of next year.

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