A fire hydrant in San Gabriel. Photo by Chuan Ding.

A fire hydrant in San Gabriel, California. Photo by Chuan Ding.

It was only recently that I began to notice that the fire hydrants around my apartment are all shaped differently. One of them is skinny and tall and another is more round. These differently shaped fire hydrants have broken my preconceptions about the standard look of fire hydrants, but planted the idea of fire hydrants as street design, urban art elements/installations, or even as the city’s landscape decor. I began imagining these fire hydrants appearances changing according to annual holidays or the cultural communities that it served.

A fire hydrant in Downtown LA. Photo by Chuan Ding.

A fire hydrant in Downtown LA. Photo by Chuan Ding.

A fire hydrant is a connection point by which firefighters tap into the city’s water supply. Aside from the general purpose of delivering water for firefighting, the hydrant design selected must be based on a number of operational elements:

  • How much water (GPM or L/min) is needed for firefighting.
  • The amount and size of hoses/connections required.
  • The established hose sizes and coupling threads in the region.
  • Current (and future) configuration of fire apparatus.
  • Issues of clearance and visibility.
  • Operating characteristics of the hydrants.
  • Amount of head (static pressure) that is present in the system.
  • Climatic conditions in the area.
Different Shapes of Fire Hydrants in San Gabriel. Photos by Chuan Ding.

Different shapes of fire hydrants in San Gabriel. Photos by Chuan Ding.

As landscape architects we’re constantly attempting to make the streetscape more welcoming and encourage pedestrian use. Public art, installations, and other community based landmarks – even as small as a fire hydrant – can encourage exploration by foot. If you don’t believe me, just take note of the explosion of pedestrian activity throughout the nation, all motivated by Pokemon Go, a game that has filled the streets with players exploring the city in ways city planners could have only dreamt of.

Instead of a big and expensive art installation, a thoughtfully decorated fire hydrant might be one of the simplest ways to add a small and playful element to the community landscape without much cost or effort. It is time we instill imagination into the urban landscape in unexpected ways, engaging people to see the inherent beauty in the everyday.

For more fire hydrant art, check out this website.


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