By Brian Van Bower
Late in 2001, WaterShapes columnist Brian Van Bower wrote passionately about innovation and the value he saw in pursuing trends, accepting change and moving steadily forward. As we stand at another set of crossroads a decade later, the foundation he defined back then has as much substance as ever.
‘I’ve always been excited by innovation,’ he began. ‘I place creativity high on my list of aspirations and priorities in my own business, and I think my life gets most interesting when I’m involved with people who are similarly attuned to this desire to do and try new and interesting things.’ He continued:
‘I’ve had the benefit of associating with highly innovative people through the years who’ve shared the creative process with me, taught me a lot and made the ride extremely enjoyable – and fruitful. These experiences have filled me with a desire to be out front myself with innovative and creative ideas.’
‘[F]or all the high-minded talk that you hear these days about creativity and “thinking outside the box,” the truth is that many potentially creative people and companies won’t go very far out on a limb for one simple reason: Being a frontrunner comes with a fee – a fee known as risk.’
‘To be creative in any walk of life, you must be willing to take chances, and that means you’re almost guaranteeing that at some point along the way you’re going to miss the mark. But that doesn’t much matter, because it’s these people who define the future not only for themselves, but for everyone else as well.’
‘These days, vanishing-edge pools are everywhere, and most contractors are pretty confident they can carry one off – although there’s a wide and often-obvious gulf between those who really know what they’re doing and those who don’t. There was a time not so long ago, however, when vanishing edges were on the farthest cutting edge of swimming-pool design and only a handful of designers and contractors were willing to take the risk of building what was perceived to be a difficult design.’
‘Another characteristic of frontrunners is a willingness, even a perceived necessity, to share what they know. Not all innovators take this approach, believing that sharing is tantamount to giving away the store and squandering a competitive edge. Frontrunners, however, see things the opposite way, operating from the perspective that when they share what they know with others, the entire trade benefits and begins to elevate. Just as a rising tide lifts all boats, so, too, designers and contractors all benefit from the increasing sophistication of the industry at large.’
‘I strive to be a frontrunner in my own way, and I know that a big part of it is a willingness to move into the unknown, knowing that there will be times when experiments and explorations won’t always work out as hoped. If one learns from those situations, then every moment spent, even in failure, is a worthy investment.’
‘What’s important to me, now that I know and appreciate the value of frontrunning, is that I have to take chances like this to grow creatively and technically as a watershaper. It’s a risk I’m willing to take – my investment in staying on the cutting edge.’
Brian augmented this insightful column with a sidebar on emerging trends – details and concepts that were basically brand new ten years ago. Among the novel ideas back then that have caught hold and become commonplace today, he included the concept of outdoor “rooms;” thermal ledges; lighting effects of all sorts; deck-level overflow systems; and pool/spa applications of laminar jets. He also mentioned growing interest in ponds, streams and the whole genre of living waterfeatures; indoor watershapes; and designs that used water to link interior and exterior spaces.
‘All of these elements and many others,’ he wrote, ‘challenge us to move forward to apply them in our work in new and creative ways. Will any of them catch on the way vanishing edges have in recent years? Only time will tell – but it’s an interesting set of possibilities just the same.’
In your view, have watershapers generally embraced the leading edge? Was Brian right about the value of frontrunning and the “interesting set of possibilities” he defined in 2001? To comment, please see below.
Brian Van Bower runs Aquatic Consultants, a design firm based in Miami, Fla., and is a co-founder of the Genesis 3 Design Group. He can be reached at