Gustafson Porter + Bowman: The work to turn the design of the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain from an artist’s impression into reality involved skilled craftsmen from across the UK and groundbreaking high-tech production techniques previously used in the automotive industries. It seemed appropriate that the combination of contemporary and traditional methods should be used in the permanent memorial to reflect the life of the Princess. The team responsible for the design and construction of the Memorial included landscape designers, computer modeling specialists, consultant engineers, construction professionals and expert stonemasons. The skills and abilities of each company or organization contributed to the success of this important national project.
The design for the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain by Gustafson Porter + Bowman went through a number of key stages. It began with the designers’ first model of the Memorial and their description of the complex textures, patterns and water features on its surface that would make the water tumble, cascade, curl and bubble as it ran its course. It also involved the development of the hydraulic design of the various water jets in collaboration with Arup engineers. The challenge was to make this vision into a technically deliverable programme of work.
Initially, a clay model was created by designers Kathryn Gustafson and Neil Porter. As well as modeling the fountain, it also incorporated the reworking of the land around the fountain in Hyde Park. Once completed, a rubber mould of the clay model was created and a cast from the mould was digitally scanned by the Ford Motor Company to create a ‘three-dimensional scan file’. The Ford ‘scan file’ allowed the design team to create sections through the Memorial’s granite ring and surrounding landform to develop the design of the features in more detail. This was the first time that this software had been used for architectural purposes – it had to be adapted from its usual automotive industry applications.
Surface Development & Engineering (SDE), a British firm specialising in high quality computer generated surface models were able to develop the design from Gustafson Porter + Bowman into the final smooth 3D model. They used their computers to model the full shape of the Memorial, creating a seamless electronic file detailing the exact shape and location of each of the 545 stones in the Memorial. This file, referred to as a ‘jelly mould’, could then be divided into individual ‘virtual’ blocks for the stonecutters.
Barron Gould-Texxus, a British company specialising in the design of textured surfaces, had recently solved the problem of digitally creating all types of texture patterns, visualising them on 3D objects and reproducing them in the real world. They were employed to computer model the surface patterns and were then given the task of merging the more than 230 square metres of unique surface effects with SDE’s ‘jelly mould’ file.
The outcome of this groundbreaking technical effort was a set of complex computer files that described, with engineering accuracy, the precise shape and surface texture of each piece of stone in the Memorial. At the same time one key area of the Memorial, known as the ‘swoosh’, was built in mock up by Imperial College, London. This was used in trials to fine tune the spectacular water effects at this key section. Another mock-up was produced, by water feature specialists Ocmis, of the ‘bubbles’ introduced into the western side of the fountain.
Opened in July 2004, this fountain is no ordinary water feature. The Memorial is an oval of water set lightly across the existing contours of the site. The feature uses the topography to divert the water downhill in two directions. The Gustafson Porter + Bowman design expresses the concept of ‘Reaching Out-Letting In’. This is based on the qualities of the Princess of Wales that were most loved, her inclusiveness and her accessibility. The presence of the fountain surrounded by open landscape has an energy which radiates outwards while at the same time draws people toward it. There are various features along the fountain which have been created by texturing the stone or by adding jets of water.
The Source is located at the highest point where water bubbles up from the base of the fountain. Approximately 100 litres per second of water is pumped up hill from a storage tank in front of the refurbished plant room beside the Serpentine. From here it runs downhill in two directions (east and west).
The water bounces down a cascade of steps which have been richly textured with a surface evocative of natural patterns or pleated fabric.
After this there is a level crossing point for people to enter the heart of the oval from the outside of the ring.
Rock and Roll
The water then enters an area where the granite has been sculpted so that the water gently rocks and rolls as it travels along a subtle curve.
The water then picks up momentum before it enters a subtle curve where five water jets create water patterns and additional energy is pumped into the fountain which the designers have named the ‘swoosh’.
The granite channel to the west of the Source has been highly textured using innovative stone cutting techniques to create a lively play of water which recalls a mountain stream or babbling brook. The water then passes under a level crossing point where the stone channel begins to flatten out.
As the water travels further, the channel widens out and air bubbles are introduced into the water in five locations. The bubbles are carried downstream where the water becomes a tumbling cascade of white water as it corners over a waterfall.
A ‘chaddar’ is a water feature created by the flow of water over elaborately carved stone found in traditional Mughal gardens. The chaddar is one of the prominent water features where the water spills over from the western side before tumbling into a large pool at the bottom of the ring.
The water traveling from both east and west ends its journey in a reflective basin at the lowest point of the water feature. The visible surface of the water at this point is enlivened by special texturing at the bottom of the pool. The water which has joined together from both sides of the fountain leaves the ring at this point. The water is then pumped back to the Source to continue its unending cycle.
The design had to face up to the practical issues of manufacturing. The working of the stone required both precision and speed. Skilled stonemasons would have been able to produce the work by hand but it would have taken them well over a year. Using the latest CNC (Computer Numerically Controlled) machines this was reduced to seven months.
As a first step to meeting this and other construction challenges, Geoffrey Osborne Ltd. was appointed as main contractor, responsible for the management of the construction contract of the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial, including civil engineering, mechanical engineering, landscaping and stonemasonry.
Expert stone masons at Cathedral Works Organisation, a subsidiary of Osborne, were given responsibility for managing the quarrying, cutting and placement of the stone for the Memorial.
The stone chosen for the Memorial is ‘De Lank’ granite from Ennstone Breedon Ltd’s quarry in Cornwall. This stone is hardwearing and non-porous, which means the fountain will be a long-lasting creation. Other stones were investigated but were considered less likely to stand the test of time. Also ‘De Lank’ is unique amongst UK granites because of its light colouring, which will highlight the sparkling quality of the water as it circulates around the memorial.
After a search by the design team, the UK stonecutters best able to do the complex and technically demanding work of cutting the granite were found to be S. McConnell and Sons, located in the foothills of the Mountains of Mourne, County Down, Northern Ireland.
The SDE/Barron Gould-Texxus computer files of the 545 stone sections were subsequently sent to S. McConnell and Sons. These files needed to be translated into ‘machine code’ that would guide the CNC machines. This critical task was carried out by Vero, a global company with offices in Gloucester.
Prototype stones were cut during June and early July and cutting of the actual stones began later that month, using granite extracted from the Cornish quarry and then driven north to Scotland before crossing the Irish Sea.
Work began on site in June 2003 with a number of Osborne direct subcontractors. Initial stages include removing the topsoil and laying the foundation. Ocmis Ltd who, in conjunction with Arup have designed the fountain’s water mechanics and have installed the necessary pipe work. This was followed by the assembly of the stone sections and then the re-establishment of the surrounding parkland in Spring 2004.
The Department of Culture, Media & Sport is the government department responsible for delivering the national memorial to Diana, Princess of Wales.
The Royal Parks is the Executive Agency of the DCMS that manages Hyde Park and the other seven Royal Parks (Bushy Park, Green Park, Greenwich Park, Kensington Gardens, Regent’s Park with Primrose Hill, Richmond Park and St James’s Park). As such The Royal Parks is responsible for managing the project and will also be responsible for the long term maintenance of the Memorial.
Bucknall Austin was retained as Project Managers for the Memorial project, administering the contract on behalf of DCMS and The Royal Parks. Their role consisted of contract administration and cost management, which includes co-ordination and timely information exchange between the design and construction teams.
Landscape Architecture: Gustafson Porter + Bowman
Project directors: Kathryn Gustafson, Neil Porter, Mary Bowman
Design team: Julia Wessendorf, Tamara Hall, Frances Christie, Max Norman, Mark Gillingham, Jose Rosa
Collaborators: Barron Gould, Texxus – Surface texture
Surface Development and Engineering- Surface design
Consultants: Arup – Engineering, Bucknall Austin – Project Management, Ocmis – Fountain mechanics, Imperial College – Hydraulic testing
Contractors: Osborne – Main Contractor, Cathedral Works – Stone fixing contractorm SMcConnell & Sons – Stone cutting contractor
Site: Hyde Park, London, UK
On site: 2003–2004
One thought on "Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain by Gustafson Porter + Bowman"
There’s one thing you omitted to mention, which is that the Diana Memorial Fountain was immediately closed as it is dangerous for kids. The design, concept in fact is fundamentally-flawed: a granite watercourse that children are meant to play on. The problem is if they fall over and smash their head. Or trap their head under the little bridges that cross it, and drown. Soooo, a lot of words, but a failed design.