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Beneath the Scene

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WaterShapes LogotypeEric Herman

“All art is but imitation of nature.”
— Seneca


It’s wonderfully ironic that so many of the greatest expressions of human creativity and productivity are those that derive themselves wholly or in large part from nature.

This collision between the man-made and its natural models has been explored by great minds throughout history and is expressed in all of the arts, from painting and architecture to music and watershaping. Whether it’s cave drawings or Fallingwater, Beethoven’s Sixth or some of the most appealing projects we’ve displayed in these pages, the objective of the creative effort is often to find a direct way to express a sense of the natural world.

In this issue, in “A Window into Nature,” nature and humanity splash together as Jon Mitovich of Roman Fountains profiles a behemoth watershape sculpted onto the grounds of Microsoft’s corporate headquarters in Bellevue, Wash. I’ll leave it to you to read the article and gain a detailed appreciation of this amazing work of art (click here); suffice it to say here that the design and construction team has created a remarkable facsimile of a mountain stream that directly reflects and is clearly influenced by the astonishing natural beauty of Washington state.

What I find inspiring and informative about Mitovich’s account of his company’s role in the work is the notion that everything his firm did on the project was meant to be entirely invisible. In fact, the sole aesthetic mission for the complex circulation system was to create a visually authentic flow of water within a carefully designed stream course, with everything done so that anyone viewing the stream would completely forget about the technology that dominates our modern world (as well as this particular watershape).

On one level, this speaks to a remarkable flexibility on the part of the staff at Roman Fountains, given that much of the company’s focus is on creating water effects that leap, dance, spray and generally create glorious and entertaining (and obviously man-made) spectacles. On another and deeper level, the notion that a state-of-the-art “display” system would be made only to vanish into the scenery has much to say about the selflessness and sophistication that true and deliberate naturalism can require.

Of course, there is another irony in the fact that this ultra-natural watershape now adorns the campus of one of the technological world’s most dominant companies. While it’s delightful to think about software engineers rolling over computer code in their heads as they stare at mountain cascades, I for one can relate completely to how invigorating it must be to spend time by the water’s edge after hours spent staring into a computer screen.

The unifying lesson in all of this, I believe, is that no matter how advanced, clever or inventive we humans become, our finest creative expressions still exist primarily as echoes of the natural world. In fact, it could be argued that as we strive for greater inventiveness and refinement, what’s really happening is that we’re just becoming better at expressing the sublime and simple beauty of nature.

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