By Daryl Toby
When you execute complex projects for sophisticated clients, your ability to satisfy them and their tastes by bringing something different or interesting or unique to the table can make all the difference. As our firm has evolved, we’ve increasingly come to focus on identifying these compelling touches, which for us most often center on old-world influences that resonate, sometimes deeply, with our clients.
I’ve always loved to travel and have spent extended periods in Asia, Latin America and Europe. At some point, it occurred to me that by working not only with the principles of classical European and Asian garden design, but also with authentic, imported materials and art objects, the work would take on greater meaning and interest for me – and for my clients as well.
To that point, our firm had followed a path of influence that still reflects itself in our replication of ancient stone-setting techniques. While traveling in China and Japan, I began spotting stone pieces and other objects we could use directly in our watershapes and gardens and started acquiring pieces for that purpose.
This step beyond evoking not only the style but actually using elements of authentic design quickly turned into a powerful element in our work. As we moved further in this direction, the channels opened wider, the creative possibilities blossomed and we soon began incorporating more and more of the materials and ideas that I’d encountered
It’s amazing how the traditions of art and craft tracing back through centuries still inform today’s designs.
That’s particularly true in the field of garden ornamentation, where modern statuary, fountains, vases and seating elements take their cues from original works found in ancient Greece and China, in Renaissance Italy and France – and from just about every other era and location around and between.
This depth of available imagery is both a boon and a challenge to those in the business of supplying garden ornaments to today’s architects, landscape architects, watershapers and their clients. There’s just
The shopping mall as we know it first emerged in the United States in the 1960s and since then has become a dominating retail presence on both the urban and suburban scenes.
They started out in larger cities but soon were found just about everywhere – indoors or outdoors, small and large, visually appealing and, well, less visually appealing. Some are organized around upscale shopping and recreational activities, others around discount centers and manufacturers’ outlets. There are many that are filled with mom-and-pop boutiques, while a few are integrated with amusement parks. Whatever seems likely to succeed, mall developers have certainly been willing to give it a whirl.
At their core, however, every mall of any type has the primary mission of pulling people together so they can spend money on all kinds of merchandise; all the entertainment, dining and socializing are, in other words, secondary activities. In this sense, today’s retail forums are a modern version of marketplace traditions that reach back to ancient times and almost every human society – with lots of modern conveniences added for good measure.
Today’s malls, in fact, are
I’ve always been conservative when it comes to guaranteeing my work, which is why I only offer a 300-year warranty on my sculptures. I’m fairly certain that the vast majority of my pieces will last well beyond that span, but there’s always the possibility one might be consumed by a volcanic eruption, blown up in disaster of some sort or drowned when the ice caps melt and cover the land with water.
Those sorts of cataclysms aside, it’s hard to imagine that the massive pieces of stone I use to create what I call “primitive modern” art will be compromised by much of anything the environment or human beings can throw at them.
Ultimately, that’s one of the beauties of working in stone: It possesses a profound form of permanence – and there’s a certain comfort that comes with knowing my work won’t be blown away by wind, eroded by rain or damaged by extremes of heat or cold. And given the fact that these pieces are so darn heavy, it’s safe to say that most people are going to think at least twice before trying to move or abscond with them.
Beyond the personal guarantees and despite the fact I don’t dwell on too much, working with stone also has a unique ability to connect me and my clients with both the very distant past and the far distant future. Human beings have been carving stone for thousands of years, and many of those works are still with us in extraordinarily representative shape. There’s little doubt that those pieces
If ever there was an example of the power of simplicity, it’s been the rise of what we call floating-granite-ball fountains. They’ve been around since the early 1990s and are now found in a range of commercial and even residential settings.
I hadn’t ever seen one when I joined HydroDramatics back in 1996, but I do know that soon after I started we began receiving a steady flow on inquiries about them – and it wasn’t long before we received our first commission for a floating sphere for a major automobile manufacturer in Detroit.
As has been the case every time a prospect has asked about one of these fountains since then, school administrators wanted
Sometimes you just know that a client is going to want something special – something nobody else has. I can think of no other entity that better fills that bill than the Walt Disney Co.
Justly famed for its remarkable creativity, spirit of innovation and ultra-high standards for design and execution, I knew going in that working with this amazing organization would mean coming to the table with strong ideas, supreme self-confidence and a demonstrated willingness to test boundaries and perform beyond expectations.
Our firm, Captured Sea of Sunset Beach, Calif., was founded with those exact qualities in mind and a mission to create fountain systems throughout southern California that are distinctive, unique in concept, superbly engineered and built to last. Through the past eight years, we’ve been fortunate to tackle several projects for Disney in southern California. In each case, they were looking for watershapes that would delight visitors while enduring the rigors of heavy-duty use and near-constant operation.
The call about the fountain featured in this article came in late summer 1999 from Glendale, Calif.-based Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI), the remarkable division of the company responsible for designing its theme parks and attractions. They told us that they were
From the start, this project was meant to be something truly special – a monument symbolizing the ambition of an entire community as well as a fun gathering place for citizens of Cathedral City, Calif., a growing community located in the desert near Palm Springs.
“The Fountain of Life,” as the project is titled, features a central structure of three highly decorated stone bowls set atop columns rising into the desert sky. Water tumbles, sprays and cascades from these bowls and other jets on the center structure, spilling onto a soft surface surrounding the fountain. All around this vertical structure are sculpted animal figures – a whimsical counterbalance that lends a light touch to the composition and opens the whole setting to children at play.
I’ve been building stone fountains for 18 years, and I’ve never come across anything even close to this project with respect to either size or sheer creativity. Making it all happen took an unusually high degree of collaboration on the part of the city, the artist, the architects and a variety of
Throughout ancient times, water was central to the thinking of Arab, Persian, Moorish, Moghul and Turkish architects and designers, with largely anonymous representatives of each civilization preparing elaborate spaces with fountains, reflecting pools and other watershapes at their hearts.
In the past, these societies’ greatest architectural works almost invariably featured elaborate watershapes that bespoke their technical skills as well as a general love affair with the beauty, luxury and necessity of water. With new developments burgeoning across much of the Middle East these days, fountains and watershapes of all varieties are once again playing important roles in design as
Who took the water out of watershapes?
That may seem a ridiculous question, but it’s also an obvious one when you see as many plans as I do – and by that I mean plans intended to indicate and initiate the watershaping parts of a wide variety of projects. Indeed, in my long experience in running an engineering-oriented firm, I’ve repeatedly been asked by designers to flesh out their watershape “ideas” (although in most cases vague inklings would probably be a more accurate way to describe them) and provide working drawings that reflect their “thinking.”
In my estimation, more than three-quarters of these plans lack any real indication of what the designers expect the water to do or how they want it to look. Instead, what I get is the typical overhead views with the ubiquitous “blue ghosts” or, in some cases, rudimentary sections of structures designed to contain water. It’s left to me to probe and ask questions and determine what expectations they have about how the water is to appear and what it is to do.
I’ve endured these common plan shortcomings for more years than I care to count, always wondering
When it comes to the myriad specialties of the world of watershaping, it’s tough to think of any as broad as the one occupied by floating fountains: It’s a category of systems that encompass flotation, illumination, spray systems, submersible pumps, connecting devices and land-based controls.
On the one hand are the huge systems installed near the shores of lakes and rivers. These fountains can be monumental in size and visually dramatic – the sorts of popular landmarks that become tourist attractions and, often, community icons. On the other, there are the countless smaller floating fountains and aerators located in golf-course ponds and water hazards, in municipal-park and stormwater ponds, on private estates and institutional campuses and in the bays of larger bodies of water, either as single features or as groups.
For 45 years now, our firm has been fortunate enough to have designed (and at times installed) floating fountain systems across this full spectrum, from the large and spectacular to the small and surprisingly subtle.
Some have been purely decorative, while others have been totally
When people ask me how long it takes to create one of my sculptures, I sometimes like to answer, “My whole life.”
I’ve always loved art and started collecting it while still in high school, but I never imagined in those formative years that I’d become an artist myself. After all, I have no formal training, and to this day I can’t draw – not well, at any rate.
My first career was as a computer programmer, my second as a marketing consultant – both distinctly sedentary occupations that led me to seek something physical to do in my spare time. For whatever reason, I decided to try my hand at sculpting stone, crafting a few rough pieces and taking pleasure mostly from the hard work they involved.
Right from the start, however, people
For the last few months, the Getty Villa in Malibu, Calif., has hosted a special exhibit called “Stories in Stone,” which is all about the nature, preservation and conservation of stone mosaics found in the ancient Roman cities of North Africa.
Even a quick walk through the halls is enough to show why these art objects speak to us across the millennia: Their colors are vivid, their decorative capacity is amazing, their durability is unrivalled and their sheer beauty is a delight even to the unschooled eye.
At best, tile mosaics of any caliber are both aesthetic and functional, timeless and contemporary, subtle and dramatic. They are also versatile – interior or exterior, commercial or residential – and have long been among the very best media available to designers and architects looking to infuse their work with the
As a sculptor, I always seek ways to use my work to create positive (and sometimes intellectually challenging) experiences for those who have the opportunity to see what I’ve done.
In my case, most of the time I’m not trying to make direct, narrative or literal statements. Instead, I seek to conjure feelings of fascination that lead to appreciation and enjoyment: You don’t necessarily have to understand the forms I create to walk away from them with good feelings.
When I have the opportunity to work in public settings (as was the case in the project featured on these pages), I’m stimulated by the idea that large numbers of people will be exposed to my sculpture and that, in many cases, those people will be exposed to what I’ve done over and over again because they’ll be passing by at least twice each day as they go to and from their jobs in adjacent buildings.
In this case, I was working next to an office tower in Century City – a famous business and entertainment district near downtown Los Angeles – which meant that thousands would repeatedly be walking right past my work and would come to accept it as part of their daily lives. In that light, I see art set amid architecture as a permanent commitment, as a cultural reference that has the potential to resound for generations.
This recognition fills me with a heightened sense of