Of ‘Watering Holes’ and Ancient Greek Sundials (Drinking Fountain for the Royal Parks)

Of ‘Watering Holes’ and Ancient Greek Sundials, by Robin Monotti Graziadei

“Perhaps, if it were known, the name of the dialler who designed the Ai Khanoum slab would appear in our texts as one of the great representatives of Greek thought in antiquity”

Rene Rohr

In 1975 Paul Bernard, scientist and leader of a French archaeological team, discovered in Ai Khanoum, Afghanistan, a unique sun dial dating back to the time of Alexander the Great. The sun dial took the form of a carved slab of limestone, an inclined slab with a cylinder hollowed out of its centre.

It was this ancient Greek artifact that was the inspiration for our design for the new drinking fountain for the Royal Parks. We chose to research sun dials as the first stage of the design process. We identified this unique item from Ai Khanoum, literally Lady Moon in Uzbek as not only an inspiring sun dial but as also having great potential as the starting point for a new type of drinking fountain that would provide an experience of enclosure and immersion.

We recalled the monolith in 2001 A Space Odyssey, especially the frame where the monolith, shot from below, is just eclipsing the Sun with the Moon at its zenith. We recalled the standing stones of the British Isles, especially the ones at Stenness in the Orkney Islands and the hole-in-the-stone at Men-an-Tol in Cornwall.

Having consulted our close collaborators and friends, we decided that three holes were better than one as they would cater for adults, children, wheelchair users and pets. We also thought the fountain should be made of granite like the standing stones in Cornwall.

The chamfered holes will allow the experience of a sense of immersion while drinking, as the drinker’s face is framed for other viewers to see. These playful experiences are redolent of both the seaside face frames where photos are taken on holidays, and of the wishing wells in which one places one’s head.

Inspired by the view of the dome of St. Peter’s that can be seen through the Piranesi designed keyhole of the Priory of the Knights of Malta on the Aventine Hill in Rome, we became aware that the fountain had an urban dimension, as views of the city beyond could be framed by the circular holes. Memories of the positioning of the obelisks along the main street axes of Rome by Sixtus V also led to the realisation that we could suggest a complete urban project for the positioning of the fountains, which can also relate and fit in well with the Picturesque designs of many British parks.

The first Watering Holes fountain is now installed in The Green Park, London.