Water sculpture

As technology advances, water features are becoming the star attraction of commercial developments.

Super-size fountains such as the one in Al Kout mall in Kuwait are growing in popularity
Super-size fountains such as the one in Al Kout mall in Kuwait are growing in popularity

As technology advances, water features are becoming the star attraction of commercial developments.

With construction projects worth more than US$1 trillion currently under way in the GCC, demand for water features is high as witnessed by the number of specialists setting up in the region recently.

We're not just talking any old water feature here, however. In keeping with the general trend of desiring the biggest, the best and the most dramatic of everything, it is the most advanced and sophisticated fountains that meet the most success with clients in the region, according to specialist firms.

"The people here want the most sophisticated things. The low budget clients go for the traditional fountains, but the big clients want something absolutely different - fountains with sophistication, fountains with technology, but also fountains with lots of design," says Carlos Gomes Pissarra, CEO of water feature specialist Ghesa.

Michael Denman, director of overseas operations at water feature specialist Crystal Fountains, agrees. "As soon as you go to a high profile project, that is when the bar is extended, that is when developers are keen to explore a more unique aspect of it, or something which is more dynamic.

High tech

One way in which water features are becoming more sophisticated is in the use of computer controlled or programmable fountains. In contrast to static fountains, programmable fountains use the latest in fountain technology to programme each nozzle individually to create different water patterns.

"Nowadays with everything you can use to control the water, you can do almost everything. We are pushing the limits of whatever is possible, for example the highest jet, the biggest fountain. We are pushing the limits in terms of capacities of working with water and designing with water," says Pissarra.

He cites cybernetic technology, which Ghesa claims to have been the first company to use, as one of the most advanced forms of control.

Cybernetic technology controls each individual jet of a fountain, in terms of height, speed, and inclination, enabling various effects to be created. More recently, Ghesa unveiled its ‘sheet' technology to the region, which produces images and words even logos in various languages including Arabic from individual water droplets.

Though mainly used for interiors, the innovation has caught the imagination of designers and developers in the region, Pissarra says.


Another way in which water features are becoming more high tech is through the use of lighting and the advent of the LEDs (light emitting diodes).

With its high performance technology enabling illumination of effects to six to eight metres, LEDs are now becoming the lighting tool of choice, says Denman.

The potential for creating dramatic effects is endless using LEDs, particularly with RGB (red, green, blue technology) colour changing, he says.

"With full RGB, you have 256 channels of blue, 256 channels of green and 256 channels of red, giving over 16 million colour combinations so you are looking at an incredibly sustainable lighting product," he says.

The variation is not just in the range of colour, but also in the use of colour, through techniques such as fading and colour washing, and through the mani-pulation of speed.

Use of RGB colour changing in fountains is still limited at this stage, but it is set for big things, Denman predicts.

"I would say give it another three to four years, and every single fountain is going to be using RGB LED colour change or at the very least white LEDs," he says.

Some developers aren't crazy about colour, they prefer to focus more on the animated aspect and go with white light, but the great thing with RGB is that you have so many flexibilities in the pallet that even if you are only using it for limited colour changing, you still have the technological advantage of this system where you are getting a higher performance per wattage. It really is here to stay.

As well as providing dramatic effects, LEDs are also set to be popular because of the savings they offer in energy efficiency. LEDs offer 80,000 hours of use instead of 4,000 hours with traditional light fixtures, according to Denman.

Musical fountains

Another type of sophisticated fountain that is enjoying popularity in the region is the musical fountain.

Examples include Emirates Mall in Dubai, Marina Mall in Abu Dhabi, Al Kout Mall in Kuwait, and the Al Qasba fountain in Sharjah. Musical fountains are the ones most likely to appeal to the showman in a client enabling him to offer visitors a full light and music spectacular.

There are two main types of musical fountain. The plug and play approach whereby a fountain will dance to the music of a CD, or, the more advanced method, choreographed musical fountains, which allow for more dramatic expressions.

    Key innovations

  •  RGB colour changing: Colour change technology offers endless permutations.
  •  Multi-media fountains: Light and sound are being used to take water power to a new dimension.
  • Solar power: Using the natural power of the sun to operate fountains is set to become a big trend.

The choreographed fountains are the major ones, Denman says. "The technology has moved in terms of the type of sequencing that we use and when you are looking at sophisticated animated water displays you are looking typically at using elements of individual sequencing which will enable you to do travelling waves, and chasers and much more dynamic water displays.

The drawback with musical fountains is the high maintenance, continues Denman. "The challenge with musical fountains is that at the very least every two years, you have to programme new shows or people will get fed up with them.

You have to find an owner who is really committed from an operational standpoint to investing in maintaining the show, not just maintaining the fountain per se, but also creating budgets for new elements.

Clients often decide not to go with a musical fountain, because of the level of commitment required in terms of operation, he adds.

Multi-media fountains

But why stop at music or light? Increasingly, specialists are experimenting further with water features by incorporating other elements including fire, video projections, and even laser shows. "Clients now want to have the 'best' in design, equipment and structure, and they don't mind paying big bucks for it," says Beena Asarpota, purchase manager at United Technology & Trading Company.

Most commercial clients are looking towards different fountain ideas - like a dancing fountain. There are also talks of similar versions of Las Vegas' famous Bellagio fountain, where in high pressure, excellent quality jets 'dance' to music notes [coming to the region], and in some cases fire is introduced to the water feature too."

Whilst the concept of the multi-media fountain is still relatively new to the region, it is starting to take off. US specialist Wet Designs used fire for its night show at the Mall of the Emirates, while Magical Water Fountains, a branch of Dubai-based Magical Production, is in the process of working on the first installation of the multi-media show in Muscat, Oman located in the Al Qurm Park.

The wider adoption of such fountains is however likely to be restricted by the cost of both installing and operating such a feature.

Solar power

In terms of future technology trends, solar power may prove to be the next big thing as far as fountains are concerned, specialist designers predict.

Solar powered fountains work by converting sunlight into electricity via small panels made up of photovoltaic cells.

Pissarra says his firm is already testing fountains with solar panels, especially with fountains that incorporate sculpture.

"Technology allows today what it didn't allow two years ago. I think that the most important thing will still be the creativity, the design of the fountain. Fountains with sculpture will be the future," he predicts.

Case study

The water feature at Al Kout Mall in Kuwait is nestled between two malls and covers an area of approximately 300 metres by 50 metres.

The feature showcases hundreds of custom nozzles producing fog spray, dramatic water heights up to 45 metres and surging effects to recreate the noise of the surf. In the evening the water is lit and there are nine different water feature shows choreographed to music.

"The client was keen on exploring the aspects of a musical fountain. We came in and looked at the space, discussed the programming and the vision for the space with the developers and architects, and developed concepts, which were in scale," explains Michael Denman, director of overseas operations at Crystal Fountains.

"This is a huge water body so you need some pretty dramatic effects so that visually it's powerful. We created effects ranging from surfing effects recreating the sea to misting effects that refresh people to shows with jets rising as high as 45 metres".

"Crystal Fountains assisted in the entire process of developing the display. We did the design, oversaw the construction, did all the programming, as well as the choreography and the audio design."

"The show really comes to life at night, when there is a show every half an hour. The animated water feature creations a major attraction in the space. For much of the year, it's something that really contributes and enhances the experience of being outside. Water is a powerful attraction," he adds.


Tamdeen Real Estate Company, Concept Architect, Cambridge Seven Associates, Design Architects, Dar Al Omran, Architects, Gulf Consult, Design and construction management, Projacs, Water feature specialist, Crystal Fountains, Fountain contractor, Atlas Blue General Trading and Contracting.

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