For thousands of years, fountains always featured a water basin. Then landscape architect Peter Walker designed Harvard University's Tanner Fountain, and a revolutionary new idea was born.
"Once upon a time-and not so long ago as all that-if you planned on splashing water around in a decorative manner, you were expected to provide a basin in which the water could be collected afterward. In a long, rich history reaching back to the Rome of emperors and aqueducts, fountains had always had basins. The Trevi Fountain, in Rome; the Apollo Fountain, at Versailles; and the Buckingham Fountain, in Chicago-they all have basins.
But basins can leak, becoming maintenance headaches. In the early 1980s, Harvard University was contemplating a new fountain. Derek Bok, then the president, noted that a number of campus fountains had ended up as planters, and he wondered if the designer, Peter Walker, could come up with a solution. Mr. Walker did just that-by getting rid of the basin and simply grading the site so that the water ran toward the drains. It was a solution so obvious, and so good, that you have to wonder why no one had thought of it before. Plenty of people have thought of it since, of course-fountains everywhere now take advantage of Mr. Walker's fountain-design advance.
Now the American Society of Landscape Architects and the National Trust for Historic Preservation are honoring the Harvard fountain-the Tanner Fountain-with the 2008 Landmark Award."