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Princess Diana Memorial Fountain Draws Praise, Criticism - 2004-07-01

A memorial fountain for the late Princess Diana will open in London Tuesday, marking the seventh anniversary of her death. And like the princess herself, the memorial has drawn its share of controversy, praise and criticism.

The fountain is a large, oval moat with water running down both sides, landing in a pool at the bottom. The surface is lined with multi-textured, anti-slip stones, where children can safely paddle in the water. The moat surrounds a massive area of grass with a dry crossing point so people can enter the oval.

The designers say the fountain is intended to expresses the concept of 'reaching out and letting in,' based on Princess Diana's inclusive and accessible nature. The memorial is in Hyde Park, near Kensington Palace, where the princess lived, and close to a walking path and a playground also dedicated in her memory.

The chief architect, Kathryn Gustafson, says the fountain serves both as a peaceful place where people can relax and contemplate, and as a fun area where children can play.

Ms. Gustafson says the memorial's design is representative of Princess Diana's character.

"I think the fountain represents Diana. She is like many people. You go through hard times, and you find your way through them. You go through good times. She was able to move through that and hold on to who she was," she said. "There are all sorts of fun things in the fountain that are turbulent and cascading down, and champagne bubbles, and total calm, and playful. There are many things about her personality that it hopes to acknowledge and memorialize."

But some people are not pleased with the memorial fountain. Critics say it is not elaborate enough to properly pay tribute to Princess Diana. Others say the $6.5 million spent to build the fountain would have been better spent building a children's hospital. Diana had a lifelong interest in children's health.

During a preview of the fountain a week before the opening, people passing by had mixed reactions.

"I wasn't so keen on it. Because it's a bit too plain for me," one woman said. "I didn't like all the concrete. Because I walked by it initially and I thought, 'What's that stuck there?'"

"I think it's very interactive, and the whole memorial is alive," countered a man. "So, it's quite unique compared to most memorials. I think it's absolutely perfect. It's very unique and outstanding."

"I've just learned how much money it actually cost. The money could have been put to something that could remind you of her that would have been a lot more useful," the woman responded. "Perhaps, a special unit at a hospital, or something like that."

Princess Diana's mother, who died recently, criticized the design plans for the fountain, saying it lacked 'grandeur.' But the chairwoman of the fountain memorial committee, and friend of Diana's, Rosa Monckton, disputes the criticism that the fountain is too simple.

"One of the criticisms that I have read is that this fountain is not grand enough," she said. "And I think a point I really do want to make was that she was not grand. She was the most unstuffy person I think I know. And I think this fountain reflects that."

Ms. Monckton says she did not want the fountain to be a spectacle because Diana was treated as a spectacle her whole life.

Queen Elizabeth will open the memorial fountain on Tuesday. Diana's former husband Prince Charles, and their sons, Princes William and Harry, and other members of the royal family will join her. Some of Diana's relatives from the Spencer family, including her brother, will also attend. It will be the Spencer family's first public appearance alongside the royal family since Diana's funeral in 1997.

Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper says a surprise carved inscription to the princess will be revealed.