Plumbing and art may be two words that don’t form an immediate connection in our mind, but it’s interesting how closely the two are intertwined — and have been so for centuries!
Now that we’ve said that, you may be thinking of water fountains, decorative birdbaths or luxurious bathroom fixtures. True, these are excellent reflections of what one would perceive as the ‘art of plumbing’. But, what if we say that plumbing itself, as a specimen of talented workmanship, is art. The history has been a testament to this fact and the future will uphold it too.
Plumbing as public art in history
The earliest known plumbing and pipeline works were found in 4000BC in Babylonia, then in Orkney Islands, Scotland around 3200 BC and in the Indus civilization of India in 3000 BC which boasted of drainage systems, vertical pipes and were the first users of public baths.
The greatest feats of plumbing engineering, however, are the Roman Aqueducts which survive in parts even today and functioned as water suppliers to public baths, fountains, wells and private homes too. After the fall of the Roman Empire, an apathy and neglect towards plumbing led to much degradation of the quality of life, and was the chief reason behind the plagues of the 14th and 15th centuries.
In some ways though, the art of plumbing carried on. This is evident from the various artistic deployments of public drinking fountains and sculptures that integrated ingenious water features, plumbing fixtures, piping, valves, etc. throughout Europe, especially in the Renaissance period. And, we still flock to see them today as tourists.
Modern art of water
Today, the mark of a stunning house is equally measured by its plumbing fixtures. In fact, landscaping includes a lot of plumbing art to incorporate beauty through backyard fish ponds, artificial waterfalls, interesting variety of swimming pools, Jacuzzi fittings, outdoor hot-tub installations and decorative creeks, etc. Public monumental fountains such as the Bellagio in Las Vegas, Fountain of Wealth, Singapore, Kanazawa Fountain Clock, Japan, etc. are iconic in their own right.
Whether they are agricultural irrigation systems, or the humble home garden sprinkler systems, spray parks or table-top fountains, or just the regular bathroom fixtures or custom-made vanity sinks, be they water slides and water parks or that quaint little aquarium of little fishes inside your home, the art of plumbing pervades art in our life and society.
The beauty that is reflected through the taming and controlling of water is an art form that is much in demand. And all of this is made possible through the skillful art of plumbing where the framework is always invisible and the result is visible in all its glory.
The ‘artifices’ of plumbing
Artist Alexander Melamid did a series of paintings called ‘The Art of Plumbing’ and believes that it is an amazing human invention. The point of view is important and of course, different too, for one man’s art could be another man’s utility, simply. These seemingly simple things like plumbing pipes, draining lines, pumps, valves, etc. are the things that construct all these art projects and installations.
Plumbing also incorporates a world of fixtures and appliances, like boilers, water heaters, faucets, tub and shower valves, dishwashers, ice-makers, etc. Services of plumbing are essential and often categorized as emergency services.
We generally don’t grant the due importance to plumbing unless and until something goes wrong. It is only clogged drains, or obstructed cooling units, or overflowing sewers that make us revere plumbers but in actuality, household plumbing is a pillar of the quality of our health, sanitation and safety. Civilizations have advanced and deteriorated based on the advancements of plumbing, beautified cities and proliferated food production through the interconnected lines of pipes. Plumbing is verily art and an art we should take pride in.