In the fountain industry, there are a number of different ways that fountains get designed and installed. In almost all cases, the desire to have a fountain on a project has already been decided, and sometimes a budget – often arbitrarily – has been established.
There is usually an architect or a landscape architect involved in the project that may or may not have included preliminary details with respect to how the fountain will look in plan and section. Often these details are the extent of the ‘design’ of the fountain and all remaining issues are left to a consultant, fountain manufacturer or contractor – either the general contractor or a design/build contractor.
In some instances, the architect or landscape architect will seek out help to further complete the design of the fountain including the mechanical and electrical portions. This help can manifest itself in a number of different ways and may include the services of a true fountain consultant, a manufacturer/supplier of equipment, or a design/build contractor. Each approach is different and depending on which is used, can require a contractor to work out many details that are not called out on the drawings or in the specifications, but are none the less extremely important to the success of the project.
Fountain consultants typically do not sell products and only put the design on paper to be bid by a contractor as part of a larger building works. A consultant will typically design the fountain mechanical and electrical systems which include the water effects and lighting, and will coordinate the supply of utilities to the fountain pump room or pool with other engineers including power supply, water supply and sewer services. A consultant may also help the architect or landscape architect detail finishes to the pool like tile or granite, will detail the weirs and waterfalls, and will incorporate those finishes into their drawings to show how hardware items in the pool will look when installed. A consultant should also coordinate the structural requirements of the fountain basin with the structural engineer and the drawings will reflect the actual structural conditions that the contractor is expected to build. The consultant will also typically advise on waterproofing methods to use for the fountain that have to be specified by the structural engineer or the architect. They will also coordinate with the architect, landscape architect and/or civil engineer to address how the areas around the fountain meet and match up with the fountain structure. All of this work is done for a fee to the consultant. During construction, the consultant is usually available for any questions that may arise from the contractor or to help work out any conflicts that may occur with the fountain works. Some consultants will work on a reduced scope basis to provide partial services to a Design Development level or provide a schematic design and a performance specification for implementing a design/build contract.
Fountain manufacturers are in the business of selling products to make fountains work. As part of their business model, they often provide design services to architects, landscape architects and contractors to show how their equipment will work in the conceptualized fountain. When contacted by architects or landscape architects, the fountain manufacturer may charge a fee or provide free design services in return for the privilege of specifying their own products on the job. Typically, when designing for the architects, the manufacturer will take the basic plan and sections that have been developed and provide a basic piping plan and details of their equipment showing generic installation in concrete, often not truly representative of how the structure will actually get built. Actual site conditions and installation details will often have to be worked out by the contractor. Additionally, the fountain manufacturer usually provides requirements for utilities on their drawings such as water supply size, power requirements and drainage requirements, but these are usually not coordinated with the engineers and often carry the ubiquitous note “by others”. While a manufacturers’ design package will provide the basics of the requirements for the operation of the fountain, they usually have not considered site specific issues and are not fully coordinated.
Fountain distributors provide products associated with fountains that may or may not be supplied by a fountain manufacturer. This typically includes nozzles, pumps, lights, controls, fittings and custom fabricated items that are shown on drawings or required to make a fountain work properly. Most suppliers buy and resell equipment and the value that they bring is they often have stock on hand of any number of items that a contractor would otherwise have to wait on from a manufacturer or OEM source. It should be noted that while most suppliers are knowledgeable about fountains, they are not primarily designers and while they typically are happy to provide advice on how to apply and use the different products they sell, if they are asked to design something, the time required for them to do that takes them away from their primary mission of selling. Some suppliers will provide design help for a fee if the effort requires a significant time investment.
Design/Build contractors provide an important service to the fountain industry as they are often called on to install a fountain that is shown on drawings with little or no information or as we call it, “the blue circle”. Design/build work is a way for an owner to move directly into construction without spending money on consultants or architects to design the fountain. Often the decision to go design/build is dictated by budget restraints, which may be shortsighted with respect to the type of fountain desired. In any case, when a design/build contractor is engaged, all aspects of the fountain work are usually packaged in the requirements. This assumes that the contractor has the capabilities to actually design the fountain, and if they don’t, then they have to go down the path of getting someone to help them with the design. This leads them to the same cast of services as outlined in this document, that is, they can work with a consultant (for a fee) to help them design the system in a minimal capacity or truncated service than they normally provide, or they can reach out to a manufacturer for free design help or they can call on a supplier to assist them with the design. Since it is called design/build, the contractor should include in their cost estimate money to design the fountain whether they are going to do it or pay someone else to do it. This approach will cover the costs of engaging some help, and if they ignore it they are doing a disservice to the owner and the project. It should be remembered that you get what you pay for and if the contractor only shops around for the least expensive way of installing a fountain they may not end up with enough information or expertise to make it a success.
Notes to Architects:
- Engaging a fountain consultant will provide the best possible package of drawings and specifications to bid competitively and will allow for full coordination of all disciplines and the best quality for installation.
- Engaging a fountain manufacturer for design help will leave some gaps in the design that the architect/landscape architect will have to fill in with respect to structural design and architectural details around the manufacturer’s equipment, and coordination of services with electrical, mechanical and civil engineers. This can cause unexpected scope creep. The architect will still have to detail weirs and structural elements as well as coordinate waterproofing methods.
- Engaging a design/build contractor puts much of the responsibility of the design and quality in the hands of the contractor and may require significant coordination on the part of the architect and general contractor to organize services to the fountain. This is especially true if the other subconsultants are under the primary architect and do not have direct contact with the design/build firm. The client should make sure that the design/build contractor can provide engineered structural drawings if they are not a part of the construction document package.
Notes to Contractors:
- Make sure you have the ability to provide design services as part of your work and if you do not, make sure you include the costs of obtaining help from a consultant, manufacturer or supplier to assist in the design.
- You may have to engage local engineering firms to help complete the design, civil for water and sewer connections, structural for concrete design and possibly waterproofing and electrical for power supply designs.
- Of special concern is geotechnical reports for your structural engineer – available from the owner and type of waterproofing of the structure which must be compatible with the finishes to be used in the fountain.
Feel free to contact Waterline Studios to help you make informed decisions on the path you should take for a successful fountain on your project.