ZAK plays with New York’s fire hydrants

Things can get oppressively hot in the concrete jungle during the dog days of summer. New Yorkers have long coped with the heat by using the city’s fire hydrants as impromptu cooling devices. The practice is so common that a 1994 New York Times article once described the humble fire hydrant as “the lifeline of summer.”

But while it’s a deeply entrenched New York tradition, depicted in countless photos and movies like Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, the practice known as “uncapping” is also incredibly wasteful. According to one expert, a single open hydrant can spew as much as 1,000 gallons of water a minute—as much water in an hour as an average family of four uses in a year.

The team at Zulu Alpha Kilo’s New York and Toronto offices have developed a practical yet fun solution that’s also earned them some good media exposure. Their “Splash Spots”—tagline: “Less water. More play”—permit 50% less water flow than a hydrant equipped with a standard spray cap issued by the city, all while creating what the agency describes as “mesmerizing” water effects.

The Splash Spots are a bulbous attachment made from machined metal, and contain what Zulu Alpha Kilo describes as a “precisely calibrated array of vales and channels” to create the water effects.

They are a continuation of the agency’s application of creativity to create solutions that go beyond mere advertising—following on the heels of 2021’s “Tough Turban,” and this year’s configurable desk for educational technology company D2L.

And with coverage from prestige titles including The New York Times and Fast Company, they also provide some nice publicity for ZAK and its one-year-old New York office.

The Splash Spots were developed in partnership with the New York non-profit Street Lab, which creates and shares programs for public space across New York City, and the Brooklyn-based industrial design studio Group Project. Zulu Alpha Kilo’s chief design officer Stephanie Yung oversaw the project, working with the team of Michael Romaniuk and Marco Buchar and the agency’s New York CCO, Tim Gordon.

The Splash Spots debuted in Brooklyn earlier this month, with a second appearing on Frederick Douglass Blvd. in Harlem early next month. With approximately 107,000 fire hydrants spread across New York’s five boroughs, there are a lot of “uncapping” opportunities ahead.

Meanwhile, Zulu Alpha Kilo founder and creative chair Zak Mroueh said that the plan is to bring the Splash Spots to Canada and eventually the rest of the world. Although the UK might prove more challenging.

Chris Powell