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Fire Hydrant Water Fountain - Public Art Project

Designed by artists Sans Facon

This Canada Day, Calgarians will have an opportunity to quench their thirst with water fountains conceived and designed by artists – an excellent example of how the City is using public art to its full potential.
Designed by UEP artists-in-residence Sans Facon, the Fire Hydrant Water Fountain (FHWF) Project showcases the benefits of applying creative thinking and an artistic process to practical problems, and how doing so can raise public art beyond aesthetics to being an integral part of how we, as a City, address issues and opportunities.
Three distinct water fountain prototypes – respectively titled Strangers, Family and Group – will be installed and operational along Calgary’s busy RiverWalk promenade during the Canada Day celebrations. The artists will be on site to observe public interactions with the fountains, evaluate the success of the designs and identify any modifications that may be required.
Should all go well, this pilot phase will be followed by an open art competition inviting both local and international artists to design a collection of fountains that will be used by The City at festivals and events. 


The concept for the water fountains themselves came about through an invitation by the Customer and Community Initiatives team within Utilities and Environmental Protection (UEP) to have the artists participate in an idea development process around how to best make drinking water available in public space during festival times. This cross-disciplinary conversation led to the artist team developing and pitching the FHWF project, which received enthusiastic support and the go-ahead to move forward. More city departments were then brought into the mix – including the City’s Fleet services fabrication shop that refined the designs and completed the fabrication.
The FHWF project represents the first key pilot initiative to be realized through the WATERSHED+ Lead Artist Pilot Program. This visionary new program presents a unique approach to public art and a distinct way of having artists work within The City, with the public and with community stakeholders. Sans facon, the lead artist team working on the pilot program, is currently embedded within UEP core activities, participating as members of infrastructure design teams and contributing to project design, development of events, community education and communication initiatives.

More information about the artists and WATERSHED+ can be found at

The Concept

The Fire Hydrant Water Fountain Project is an example of applying creative thinking and a creative process to practical problems – a means of using public art to address civic challenges and enhance our communities.

These fountains, with their workings exposed and three distinct characters, encourage us as citizens to gather publicly around the most basic of human needs, and to celebrate and raise our consciousness around our relationship to water. The fountains themselves are the vehicles or stage, the ‘art’ is only really created through citizens enacting and engaging with them.

The three fountains – “Strangers”, “Family” and “Group” impose different formations of gathering around water. “Strangers” sees two individuals (and their dogs) drinking face to face – at a distance quite a bit closer than we would typically choose to be with a stranger, increasing awareness of one another. “Family” has the bubblers lined up at different heights, much in much the same way as a family might in a family photograph, and “Group” has drinkers huddled together at different heights and arrangements. While the formations themselves reflect typically groupings in our society, it is interesting to think of the effect of the formation on individuals who are not a part of such a group in real life – i.e. strangers using the Family fountain at the same time.

The Artists

Sans facon, the artists responsible for the fountains, have a personal interest in how people engage with their environments and how citizens understand the processes afoot all around us. How through the slightest intervention people can become intrigued and excited about phenomena around them which may have, until that moment, been missed, hidden or misunderstood.

Sans façon began as an investigation between French architect Charles Blanc and British artist Tristan Surtees and has developed into an ongoing, collaborative art practice. They undertake diverse projects, both temporary and permanent, and through their public art practice, explore the relationship between people and place.