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Amazement in Motion
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Amazement in Motion

As animated fountain systems become more and more common in public settings, Toronto’s Crystal Fountains continues to push the creative and technical evelopes. Here Simon Gardiner profiles a recent project that utilizes the company’s latest design software and newly developed jets to create an engaging experience for people of all ages.  

By Simon Gardiner

When visitors arrive at The Amazing Brentwood, a multi-use retail center, residential property and transportation center in Burnaby, B.C., they first encounter water at the grand entrance in the form of an elegantly modern step cascade. It’s a very traditional use of moving water with a large source pool at the top of the feature that feeds a lower series of step cascades and pools.

The water disappears and reappears as you move up and down the steps, creating the illusion that the pools and cascades are not connected to each other. It’s a wonderfully architectural design, but the water system is actually very simple. Each cascade is illuminated with programmable white linear lights.

The water feature produces white noise, which creates a sense of serenity in the upper plaza. It’s a subtle example of how the sight and sound of moving and smooth water can be used to establish a relaxing ambiance the moment you enter.


On the other end of the technical spectrum from the step cascade is the feature we call the “Tree Vessel .” It’s a display feature located in the center of the main plaza, where the owners wanted to create an outside entertainment room.

These types of choreographed features have increased in popularity in mixed-use properties where owners want to create a destination where people will congregate and stay. It’s a modern trend that is based on our most innate desire to be near water and the fascination it stirs within virtually everyone.

James Cheng is the concept architect for the project with landscape design by SWA Group, who came up with the concept for the “Tree Fountain”. It’s part of an ambitious reinvention of the property, which was long ago first established as a purely retail mall. Now under the ownership of Shape Properties, Brentwood has been redeveloped in four major phases. (See the side bar for more property details.)

When Crystal Fountains first became involved, we further developed the project using our WATERlab™ CREATE software, exploring and evolving various simulations of the design. When Shape Properties brought us on as the designers on record, our involvement deepened even further.

We went through several iterations weighing various design ideas including other water features. One was a large square-matrix pop-jet deck feature, a classic interactive design that exists in countless public spaces, where they are consistently successful attracting attention and inspiring many to get wet.  

We convinced the owners to raise the feature out of concern for having a truly interactive feature so close to retail and restaurants where kids would get soaked and traipse into a store or restaurant. Now, the “quasi-interactive” feature allows kids and others to get close to the water and touch it, but they’re not dancing directly through it and don’t become soaked, a benefit to both parents and the nearby businesses.

The entire site model and WATERlab™ were used to confirm: the visibility of the feature from a variety of points; the site lines; overall scale of the water; the types of water textures ;and, the quantity of jets and illumination. It was important to create a musical water feature experience that could be enjoyed from a series of dining spaces and seating areas.


The feature starts with a 40-foot Katsura tree (Cercdiphyllum japonicum), which lives in a concrete, cone-shaped, 17-foot diameter container at the center of the feature. The circular planter is surrounded by an unusual skylight, which is visible from the parking structure located beneath the plaza. There, motorists exiting or returning to their vehicles, can look up and see the tree canopy.

The tree was installed before the fountain was built, a process that required careful coordination with installing contractor, Soucy Aquatic, in order to accommodate existing structural elements.

The team worked Soucy Aquatic and Stantec, architect of record, to integrate and coordinate the complex mechanical and electrical systems.

The fountain occupies 4,000-square feet. The water table that contains the fountain features is 67-feet in diameter and is elevated 18 inches above the deck. It contains three concentric rings of fountain features.

The innermost ring that encircles the skylight contains our small finger-jet nozzles. The middle ring contains 70 ChoreoSwitch-controlled features with RGBW ring lights — components we use on many of these types of choreographed systems.  

The outer ring contains another 70 ChoreoSwitch units along with 36 ESpyra jets, which were developed specifically for this water feature. The ESpyra is a sequencing water effect that is programmed to create dancing water forms.

It can move throughout an X and Y plane producing a variety of dynamic water expressions and movements that become the basis of the musical choreographed shows. Those nozzles are also lit by LED ring lights. The system also includes an atomizing fog system.  

The Evolving Mall

Located at the northeast corner of Willingdon and Lougheed Highway in North Burnaby, British Columbia, the Brentwood shopping center originally featured Eaton’s, Loblaws Supermarket, and Zellers among the leading anchor stores when it opened. That was back in August 1962, making it the oldest shopping mall in Burnaby, B.C., at a time when the concept of a mall was something new and would soon become a familiar feature in virtually all major cities in North America and around the world.

Like many such popular retail destinations, the mall has been undergoing small renovations and expansion since the early 1970s. By 2010, it had 125 stores and service businesses. At that time, Shape Properties acquired the regional mall and proposed the redevelopment plans for what is now, The Amazing Brentwood, an entirely contemporary mixed-use property. It still has a retail center, but also has an entertainment venue and four condo towers, very much the modern iteration of the mall concept.

As a mixed-use and transit-oriented city core, the extensive expansion seeks to place Brentwood on the map as the region’s preferred shopping, leisure, and entertainment destination, supporting a sustainable lifestyle where the community can shop, work, live, and play.

There are three hidden catch basins, two on the inner circles of the water table and another that’s encircling the entire feature beneath the deck, which is covered by a raised paver system. We designed the water-treatment system to interactive feature water-quality standards. The water is turned over every 30 minutes and is treated with chlorine and UV sanitization.

The mechanical and electrical systems are incredibly complex. The final design could only be realized through the implementation of REVIT software. It was critical to the success of the water feature and was used by Stantec and Soucy in the final design and layout of these water features.  


There’s an art and science to choreographing musical fountains to different types of music. It starts by defining the overall palette of effects and aligning them with specific vocals and musical instruments. Groups of jets can represent lead vocals, backup vocals, drums, guitars, etc.

CF’s team of internal programmers used WATERlab™ to create simulations that we vetted with Shape Properties and design team before the integration of the final musically shows.

It’s an exciting process, seeing the system come to life when it’s all installed. But the big thrill is when we finally see the public respond to the water-feature experience. There is no substitute for watching kids interact with the fountain and watching others enjoy the different types of presentations.

It’s now a dynamic spectacle that has already proven a major attraction drawing people of all ages to the water’s edge where they find delight and amazement in motion.   

Simon Gardiner is director of North American business development at Crystal, a leading international water feature specialist based in Toronto, Ontario serving the advanced worldwide fountain market.   

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