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Made Works: Dixon fountain by Mirrl

If you’ve recently visited  Glasgow’s Queen’s Park, your eye may have been caught by Dixon, Design Exhibition Scotland’s beautiful, brand new water fountain. 

Designed and built by Mirrl in collaboration with Neptune Fabrications, the fountain kisses goodbye to the mundane and unimaginative designs of many of today’s water fountains. Instead, Dixon harks back to the Victorian love of eye-catching and beautifully crafted fountains, but with a decidedly modern design for 21st century living. We spoke to Mirrl and Dixon’s commissioner Design Exhibition Scotland.

1. Who are you and what do you do? 

At Design Exhibition Scotland (DES) we collaborate with designers, makers and artists across Scotland to celebrate exceptional objects and ideas for the everyday. Through our commissions and exhibitions, we highlight the exceptional craft and innovation found among contemporary Scottish designers, makers and artists.

Mirrl is a Glasgow based company specialising in the design and creation of products using mirrl, a surface material developed by our co-founding partner Simon Harlow over 15 years, with its origins in the six-hundred-year-old Japanese technique Tsugaru Nuri. The result is a beautifully patterned and durable surface material.

Neptune Fabrications specialise in sheet metal fabrication in steel and aluminium. They’ve been metal fabricators in Ibrox since 1977, andundertake a wide array of metalworking projects.

Dixon Water Fountain, Photographer: Johnny Barrington

2. So, why a water fountain? Where did DES’s idea come from?

DES really wanted to celebrate the access we have to free and clean water. It’s something we take for granted so much, and most modern fountains and refill taps are pretty boring to look at. They’ve lost the beauty, flamboyance and craftsmanship of older Victorian and Edwardian water fountains, which really were monuments and celebrations of free and clean water. We wanted to recapture that spirit, and update it with a contemporary fountain that was eye-catching and good-looking. 

The use of single use plastic bottles is also a rising concern, with the impact that plastic waste has on the environment - surviving for centuries despite only being used for a few minutes. We all saw that the time was ripe for reviving the drinking fountain and making water more freely available in public places. So, with financial support from Scottish Enterprise, DES developed a brief and Mirrl set to work designing Dixon!

Dixon Water Fountain, Photographer: Johnny Barrington

3. The design is very eye-catching, where did it come from, and what is the process of using mirrl like?

Mirrl teamed up with Neptune Fabrications, and over a period of months we batted ideas to and fro. We wanted to be able to easily install the fountain temporarily at events, like festivals, as well as permanently outdoors or inside. We took a lot of time to properly explore and interrogate the idea of the drinking fountain and its development. Careful consideration was given to accessibility, form and function, as was the importance of catching-the-eye and adding the well-designed to our everyday landscape.

The design itself was staring us in the face all the time - a tap is a universal visual symbol that is understood to mean a water supply and its shape is no accident. The curving shape of a tap is the most effective way of pushing water upwards from its supply, downwards into, say a sink or a water bottle. A curve is much simpler to produce than three jointed components. We also took a bit of inspiration from the Dutch de Stijl movement, an early 20th century design movement that advocated simplicity over the decorative.

Fundamentally, if you know what you’re doing, the process of using mirrl is relatively easy-but if not, it can be uncontrollable! It’s a very time-consuming process- there’s a lot of choices to do with colour and colour arrangement, so we spend a lot of time experimenting and creating samples to visualise ideas. There can also be some happy accidents, which can take things in a completely different direction!

For Dixon, we had two driving forces when it came to colour. We wanted to show the availability of water, and reflect a clean, sanitary feel. Most modern fountains are pretty utilitarian and grey, and can be difficult to identify without signage. Instead of cheapening the fountain with signage, we wanted the object itself to do the talking and convey, almost at a subliminal level, the availability of water.

In the colours that we worked with, we also wanted to evoke the imagery of a Scottish west coast beach- so you’ve got the turquoise of the shallow waters and seaweed, the white of the sand and sea foam, and the deeper blues of the sea.

Susanna Beaumont, Design Exhibition Scotland and Lewis Harley, Mirrl with Dixon on plinth, Photographer: Simon Harlow

4. How did Mirrl find your collaboration with Neptune Fabrications?

Working with Neptune Fabrications was absolutely wonderful! I’ve known Jim (the owner) for years and he’s really accommodating, creative and considerate. He’s got a wealth of experience, having grown up in the business. Jim’s input into the functionality of the fountain was key in working out how to make the plumbing work in something that is modular and can be installed. He played a huge hand in problem solving how the fountain could be made cost effective and easy to install at various locations. All in all it was a great opportunity to work with guys that really know their business.

Simon Harlow and Lewis Harley, Mirrl

5. And lastly, why do Mirrl use Make Works?

For Mirrl, we see Make Works as a really great way of showcasing work. But it’s not just products, it’s also about relationships. Make Works really exposes the nature of a business and helps give prospective designers or makers an understanding of who they could work with. It helps you find the right maker for a really productive working relationship.

Dixon Water Fountain component parts, Photographer: Johnny Barrington

If you’re thirsty to find out more about Dixon, or to see it in action, DES plans to show Dixon at Brompton Design District as part of London Design Festival 2021, and later this year at the V&A Dundee. 

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