The Water Tower is Not Trying to Look Beautiful

Just like the communications towers in The Television Tower is Not Trying to Look Beautiful, water towers also have a job to do. Many are examples of performance beauty in that they have been designed to do what they need to do. 

Krasny Gvozdilshchik Tower

This first tower dates from 1930-31 and was designed by Yakov Chernikhov for the Red Nailmaker Steel Rolling Factory. It’s Chernikhov’s only built project.

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Tower of the ‘Krasny Gvozdilshchik’ Factory in St. Petersburg

Knowing it’s by Chernikhov, it’s possible to find some similar beams-cantilevering-from-beams Chernikhovery in his 101 Architectural Fantasies.


Water Tower for the Socialist City of Uralmash

Usually, it’s never a good idea to combine a water tower with some other function. This water tower is an exception that proves the rule. The competition for its design was won by Moisei Reisher, a 25-year-old graduate of the Siberian Institute of Technology.

Yekaterinburg, Russia 1929
Yekaterinburg, Russia 1929

Nikolaev Water Tower

This was designed by master steel designer and polymath engineer, Vladimir Shukov. The first proposal in 1904 cost 146,235 rules which was too expensive. A Europe-wide competition took place in 1906 but the winning project would have taken too long to construct. Another competition was held two months later but, this time, the budget was only 40,000 rubles. Shukov’s design cost 25,200 rubles.

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Nikolaev, Ukraine, 1907

Height: 26 metres; Capacity: 50,000 buckets


Kuwait Water Towers 1965

These 1965 towers were designed by Sune Lindström who was chief architect of the Swedish engineering company VBB that the government of Kuwait had commissioned to design a modern water-supply system for Kuwait City. There are thirty-one towers in five groups around the city. Each tower holds 3,000 cubic meters of water.

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Riyadh Water Tower

The Middle East was once a natural place to find water towers. Here’s one in Riyadh. It seems to be of the Lindström design.

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Roihuvuori Water Tower

Built in 1978, Helsinki’s Roihuvuori Water Tower has a capacity of 12,600 m³, a height of 52 meters and a diameter of 66.7 meters.

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Roihuvuori Water Tower, Helsinki, Finland

Fiat Water Tower

This one’s by Pier Luigi Nervi, perhaps the first man to really understand concrete. Eber Ohlsson has many more images of water towers.

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Torre Stabilimento Fiat, Mirafiori Pier Luigi Nervi, 1961

Misfit Water Tower

I spotted this one up the coast on the way to Ras Al Khaimah.

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You can see the same tower elsewhere around the world.

It’s perfect. There’s nothing unnecessary about its structure. The base is the simplest way of countering certain forces. The approximately spherical shape does the maximum volume for minimal surface area thing, whilst the conical bit where it meets the shaft is the best way to segue to the shaft. It’s a huge droplet if you like – but it’s not trying to be one.


All these next water towers, however, are trying to be something they’re not.

There are many ways to overdesign something as simple as a water tower and make it into something ugly.

  • Just because it’s unpainted reinforced concrete obeying certain structural rules doesn’t mean it can’t be overdesigned.
  • Water is heavy. Making a water tower look weightless is an impossible task. Dishonest too. The anti-gravity flying saucer thing doesn’t really work.
  • It’s generally not a good idea to use a water tower as an excuse to build something else.
  • This water tower deserves special comment. It’s designed by Eero Saarinen for Bell Laboratories. 1959–1962. A water tower is a structure to ensure a constant water pressure, not some sacred receptacle either offering water to or receiving water from the gods. More to the point, lack of cross bracing suggests makes me think we’re looking at some serious over-engineering.
Water Tower at Bell Laboratories, Eero Saarinen

We should’ve seen it coming. Its forerunner was Eliel & Eero Saarinen’s 1945 GM Warren Technical Centre. Here it’s only trying to make it look like a sculpture. I hope this water tower is heated.

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This next image has a lot of water happening. Does a facility with such powerful pumps even need a water tower?

There's a lot of water happening in this image.
“WATER – Our Friend!”
  • Surface paint jobs are never a great idea. The 1965 Kuwait Water Towers are included here now for trying to look beautiful, or at least fashionable. Both of these paint jobs are equally contrived. Both attempt to cover up some fact that can’t be concealed. MK1 uses colour to create an unconvincing difference between things that are obviously the same, while MKII uses pattern to create a superfluous similarity between things that are obviously the same. Two different aesthetic effects result, but both have an unnecessary design idea – MKI involving Colour and MKII involving Pattern.
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Finally, and to end, this last water tower is not trying to be beautiful. For their part, the trees aren’t trying to be beautiful. Nevertheless, someone has decided some trees might conceal and/or enhance something that doesn’t need concealing and/or enhancing. Nothing comes out of this looking good.

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