Art comes to the drinking fountain

 In 2016 the lights were switched on in a giant cube in downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, that set the cube glowing. The installation was part of downtown renewal, but another purpose had to do with water. The structure is a public water filling station.

The Water Cube, a product of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, is environmentally friendly. The dispensers on the vertical sides invite the use of reusable water bottles, not the single-use plastic throwaways that litter our landscapes.

Water Cube in Pittsburgh.jpg

Further, the surrounding pavement is porous, meaning that any water that gets spilled percolates into the ground and doesn’t wind up in Pittsburgh’s stormwater system.

The design and environmental sensibilities of the Water Cube reflect a growing awareness that water fountains can be more sublime than the slobbered-over drinking appliances that you might associate with ball parks and school corridors.

There’s history here. Not all that long ago Fast Company offered a history of water fountains – from 19th century efforts to supply London’s public with safe water to today’s re-invention initiatives.

And the marketplace has responded with new levels of design, as this Pinterest gallery confirms.

I was introduced to the re-enlightenment of drinking fountains at a manufacturing plant in Keene, New Hampshire: the family-owned Filtrine Manufacturing Company. This versatile and imaginative 100-employee firm had a hand in the development of Pittsburgh’s Water Cube. The company had long set standards of innovation in the water field, so Filtrine was a natural for the Water Cube.

Beyond this one company’s accomplishments in chilling and dispensing water, the larger message here is that we can do better than rely on throw-away water bottles to keep ourselves hydrated. We can fill up at public filling stations with reusable containers. Good for the environment. And, while we’re at it, good for celebrating style and grace in unexpected ways.