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WaterShapes LogotypeEric Herman

When you spend any time talking to designers of public artworks, the concept of “social responsibility” inevitably comes up in the conversation in one way or another. That makes sense, because artists who work in the public arena often do so with public funding and support from various citizens’ groups, so on a practical level they are obliged to cast their work in light of public needs and interests.

It’s a little harder to see the directness of the connection, but I think the same sense of social responsibility can be found in the projects of other designers who work in private commercial and residential settings: It’s woven into the fabric of what they do partly because of the common vocabulary of design, partly by the need to comply with established codes and standards.

Once you rise above the level of practicality, however, this translation of social responsibility from public to private gets harder to define. In fact, once you get beyond the tangible challenges of doing a good job of digging holes, laying pipe, setting steel, pouring concrete and installing equipment, discussions of social responsibility can become complex, highly intellectualized and often quite difficult to sink your teeth into.

I’ve had plenty of discussions in which I find myself being put off by sources long on catch phrases, sociological jargon and rhetoric but short on substance. The best and most reliable of these sources, however, transcend these limitations and have convinced me through the years that the finest works to be found in any sector of the watershaping trades are necessarily driven by, for lack of a better term, the “higher mind.”

When they urge me to consider the raw impact that contained water in built environments has on people who spend time in those spaces – commercial or residential, public or private – it’s easy to step back and agree that the work of watershapers indeed has significant sociological implications.

Consider the experience of inner-city kids frolicking in a local aquatics facility, the thoughts inspired by a dramatic plaza fountain, the safe harbor provided by backyard pools and spas or the biological splendors of a pond ecosystem. When you take time to consider what watershaping is all about, you’ll find some grand implications that, like it or not, are part and parcel to the work you do.

In this issue, we’re offering up two articles that look at some of the highest minded aspirations of the watershaping industry. One is “Historic Treatments” (click here), in which waterworks historian Ed Grusheski tells the story of Philadelphia’s Fairmount Waterworks, a facility that was once the state-of-the-art water treatment utility in North America and is now an interactive museum devoted to the history of water usage, watershed preservation and aquatic environmentalism. He speaks directly to the social responsibility we all have to preserve the most valuable of our natural resources: fresh water.

In a very different vein, “Living Art” (click here) offers a richly intellectual dialogue from designers Philip di Giacomo and Mark Holden that hones in on the tremendous responsibility watershapers have to provide their clients at all levels with environments that create meaningful and even society-altering experiences.

If part of what a good trade magazine can do is expand the consciousness of its readers, well, that’s clearly our aim here with these two articles. In preparing them for print, I was struck by the notion that without practical knowledge, such sociological constructs are of little use. the same token, putting our practical skills to the best, high-minded purpose requires that they be wielded with important concepts firmly in mind.

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