“The Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain
- A Personal Experience”
by Tim Austen
a shorter version of this text was featured as an article in the Irish Landscape Institute's Landscape Ireland journal, Summer 2006
Hyde Park, London on a sunny, summer afternoon and the park is a bustle of activity. In this quintessentially English park which is steeped in royal history (it used to be a hunting ground for Henry VIII) typical modern “park-life” activities such as cycling, jogging, walking and picnicking rub together with other more unusual city park activities, such as horse riding, an activity which nods to the pomp and ceremony associated with the park’s regal functions. A large portion of the park is also given over to the holding of concerts in the summer months. On the day I visited it might have been David Gray bashing out the hits, the music becoming a distorted drone when heard from outside the high hoarding surrounding the venue, but still managing to get the heart racing and lend an upbeat step to those walking in the vicinity.
The park’s features are generally large in scale as befits a Royal Park and whilst there are many significant mature trees throughout the park there is also plenty of open grassy parkland. This parkland surrounds a large lake that forms the central focus of the park.
Almost in opposition to the scale of the rest of the park and tucked away in a corner, near the West Carriage Drive, the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain rises gently and subtly out of the ground, it’s modesty contrasting with it’s function and power to move. This is not a dramatic feature of royal proportions and lavished in costume jewellery. The impact of this feature is in its simplicity and its interpretation of a personality. Diana was seen as the “People’s Princess” and this feature is certainly for the people. On the first day it was opened the water feature became filled with visitors paddling and enjoying the water.
The water feature, which was designed by Kathryn Gustaffson, consists of a serpentine channel that forms a complete ring. To the rear of the feature at its highest point the water rises like a natural spring and from here falls in two directions via narrow rills to the lower part of the feature where the channel is slightly wider forming a pool. En route, the water passes across ruffles and perturbations created by changing the texture of the channel surface. Combined with variations in the channel width and steepness this creates movement and noise, variations which cleverly alter the mood at different points around its circumference. The feature is constructed of granite stone, providing a natural finish that contrasts with the immaculately kept and finely cut grass surrounding it. There are three narrow bridging points that allow access to the central green space encapsulated by the water. The low height of the feature means that it is both possible to step over it at its narrowest points, as well as sit on its edge and get close to the water contained within. This allows for close interaction with the feature and it becomes as much an aural experience as a visual one.
More recently a footpath has been constructed around the perimeter of the memorial and fencing has been put in place nearby to control the flow of visitor access. This is a response to earlier criticism concerning its management. The intervention of the parks’ department to close of the feature and control public access somewhat lessens the open, fun, all embracing message that the memorial seeks to give out. I feel that a balance is still yet to be achieved. Nonetheless, as this is a feature that it is easy to interact with, its current setting does not take away from its intrinsic qualities or message.
The memorial has an inherent ability to make one feeling relaxed, refreshed and reinvigorated.