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201007BVB0By Brian Van Bower

If you’re like me, you look forward to the arrival of every issue of this magazine.

As I see it, WaterShapes provides information that helps me become better at what I do.  It’s also fun to read, informative and wonderfully affirming in that it shows our industry at its very best.  It’s truly an indispensible resource, has been responsible for a good measure of the progress the industry has made in the past 12 years – and, unfortunately, it’s also struggling to make headway in a tough marketplace.

Let me say this up front:  I’m going to lay it on the line about WaterShapes in this column.  I will do so not because I write for it, nor because publisher Jim McCloskey and editor Eric Herman are close personal friends, nor because of the great working relationship the magazine has had with my colleagues and me at Genesis 3.  Rather, I do so because what’s happening with the magazine might have tragic consequences for our continuing progress as watershapers.

The plain fact is, WaterShapes is an amazing gift, and we all should cherish it and do what we can to ensure its continuing presence in our marketplace and our professional lives.


It’s obvious that WaterShapes is having a tough time of it, as is true of many other individuals and organizations throughout the industry.  Nonetheless, I was shocked a while back to learn that the magazine had pared back its publishing schedule to every other month as a way to stay in the game – even though I really should have seen it coming.

Just stop and consider what’s gone in our own construction-related marketplace, and then put it in the context of everything that’s happening to just about all print publications these days:  It’s a real double whammy.

Just this morning, for example, I read in the ever-thinning Miami Herald that one of my favorite magazines, Wine News, has closed its doors, joining a spectacular number of other magazines and newspapers that have broken under the stress.  Now, basically through no fault of its own, WaterShapes has taken a hit – not a fatal blow, but one that changes our industry’s routines and partially deprives me of a resource I always want more of, not less.

I’m certain I can speak for other readers in hoping that this situation is temporary, because we truly need this publication.  It’s plain to see that necessity when you stop to consider what’s happened within our industry in the past dozen years.

Indeed, WaterShapes, in tandem with Genesis 3, ushered in a revolution at the end of the last decade – a revolution, as I’ve written in this space, that has resulted in the emergence of an entirely new industry made up of ideas, interests, technologies, trends and tastes welling up from the pool/spa realm, the landscape architecture and design communities, the fountain business, the pond and stream trades, the green movement and the fine arts.

Through the power of these pages, those elements have coalesced to create something truly new and tremendously exciting.  By demonstrating the raw potential of watershaping, the magazine has been instrumental in inspiring a whole generation of established professionals to reach higher and higher and in introducing a new generation to fresh ways of thinking about water.

As a result of the existence of this forum, in other words, our output as watershapers has become more beautiful and multifaceted than most of us would ever have dared to dream in the not-so-distant past.


Examples of what I’m suggesting here are so numerous that it’s tough to narrow the list:  Every single issue is filled such substance that you don’t have to dig very hard to find columns or articles that are interesting and relevant.  Invariably, issue after issue, quality steps forward the instant you crack the covers.

Where else (other than in some Genesis 3 classes) do you find contributions of eminences such as Anthony Archer Wills?  Here’s an artist who creates works that truly appear to be made by God and nature, often executed on massive scales – and he’s written eight amazing articles for the magazine in just the past five years!  The way he transforms spaces is stunning:  It’s watershaping at its absolute best.  

If you’re a pond and stream specialist (and even if you’re really good at it), there’s no way you can look at Anthony’s work and not realize that you still have room to grow.  And because of the wealth of information he has shared in the magazine, I’m certain that countless ponds and streams are more beautiful, better made and ultimately more likely to inspire others to consider owning one.  If that’s not advancing the cause of the industry, I don’t know what is.

In a completely different vein, consider the frequent contributions of Paolo Benedetti.  Considering only his recently started “Solutions” features (and not the seven other features he’s written through the years), Paolo shares details and tips that he’s picked up through years of experience, trial and error.  Rather than keep his insights secret, he openly shares what he’s learned simply because he wants others to benefit.

As an example, in my own practice we’ve picked up his detail for placing strainer baskets inside surge tanks.  It’s a fantastic detail that genuinely improves system performance by keeping the water in surge tanks cleaner, and until Paolo shared his approach, no one (so far as I know) was doing anything similar.  On top of that, I’ll wager that it won’t be long before a manufacturer picks up his concept and creates an off-the-shelf product for the application.  When that happens, the entire industry will have access to a great tool that apparently did not exist before Paolo shared it in these pages.

In yet another completely different vein, I think about the influence that my friend and Genesis 3 co-founder David Tisherman has had by way of his work with WaterShapes from its very first issue in 1999.  His passion for quality in design and for incomparable construction has set entirely new standards for our industry.

Consider the current view of skimmer lids.  There was a time where we simply accepted the fact that every pool had a round, white dot somewhere in the middle of the deck – sort of like a wart on the nose we simply accepted.  David changed that perspective forever both with his bristling criticism of those who didn’t see this as a radical flaw and with his detailed discussions of practical ways to cover skimmers with deck material.

It’s reached a point where now, whenever I see a telltale white lid in the middle of an otherwise attractive deck, I instantly sense that the designer or the builder didn’t think the work all the way through.  It may seem a smallish sort of consideration, but as David has taught us in the past 12 years, excellence consists of complete mastery of such details.


Let me be clear:  In charting the enormously positive influence WaterShapes has had on our industry, I am in no way suggesting that the publication has accomplished what it set out to do and that we have so much momentum now that it can step aside and wouldn’t be missed.  Quite the opposite is true!

We’ve all effectively started a journey together, and WaterShapes has literally had the backs of all progressive-thinking watershapers from the very start.  To proceed without its support will not only be harder and riskier, but also the pace of growth and development will be considerably slowed basically because there won’t be anyone there to pick up the slack.

Further, this economic downturn has keenly demonstrated that there’s a vast gulf between companies that operate on a quality basis and those that ply their trade based on price and volume.  As I’ve noted in my columns many times, the upper echelon of the trades – the segment that has joined the Watershaping Revolution – has fared surprisingly well during this recession while the volume industry has suffered grievously.   

The reason for this is simple:  In the new industry, artistry, quality, integrity and creativity (not price!) are the keys to progress, and the demand for those virtues never goes away.  WaterShapes reminds us of these facts on an ongoing basis.

Yes, doing business with clients who have money is some guarantor of success, but it’s not the only or even the most important driver:  As has been demonstrated in these pages time and time again, anyone at any level of the industry can improve his or her skills.  Even the most ordinary of swimming pools can and should be made with sound hydraulics and structural integrity, for instance, and in most cases even modest pools can include aesthetic touches that will make them beautiful.  Again, WaterShapes never ceases to impress this point upon us.

What the magazine shows us over and over, however, is that quality is transferable and that you don’t have to be building quarter-million-dollar pools to understand and apply good design concepts and sound technical skills.  In fact, in applying those qualities on more modest projects, you fill your projects with value – and will achieve success while performing on a higher plane than those who haven’t embraced quality as a guiding light.

As I see it, the greater the degree to which the watershaping trades reject crummy design, bad hydraulics, substandard construction and lousy customer service, the better off we all will be.  And don’t even get me started about those who operate in the gray market and compete under the table with no licenses, no permits, no oversight and no quality assurance of any kind!

I get ill just thinking about the way some people still do business – and I’ve always seen WaterShapes as the antidote:  It shows us all a better way to do things, a better way to relate to our colleagues and a better way to work with clients.  In that context, I must finally pose the ugly question:  Can you imagine moving forward in this industry without this publication?


Let me conclude this discussion by issuing a call to action to manufacturers – those who, with their advertising budgets, have choices when it comes to which publications they support and which they consider to be secondary.

Frankly, I just don’t understand where you’ve gone.  At a time when we who are still busy need information more than ever about who you are and what you have to offer, you’re steering clear of the one magazine we all read, most of us cover to cover, as soon as it reaches our desks.

If I were you, I’d want my products promoted in a forum that embodies excellence, a forum where people are constantly looking for new ideas and products and better ways of doing things.  That environment, which fuels imagination as well as competitive fires, is exactly where I would seek designers, specifiers and installers.  These are people who not only will use my products in quality applications, but also are creative types who likely will find ways of using those products that I might never have considered as a supplier.

On top of that, I’m constantly aware of the fact that WaterShapes reaches across industry lines.  In marketing Genesis 3 schools, I know that the magazine draws responses not just from the pool/spa industry, but also from landscape architects and designers as well as the pond and fountain trades.  The magazine has helped us expand our marketing reach among water-centered businesses in cross-cultural ways we couldn’t have affordably achieved otherwise.

When I wear my marketing hat, I see not advertising with WaterShapes as a violation of my self-interest.  I’m not suggesting that this is the only place I’d place my advertisements, but it’s certainly at the top of my list because it reaches just the professionals I want to reach.

For many reasons, I’m deeply grateful to those companies that have always supported WaterShapes.  I recognize that nobody makes advertising decisions based on altruism, but at least the advertisers in these pages have made sound decisions that also do right by the watershaping industry as a whole.

In sum, we’ve become a better industry because of WaterShapes, and we need this magazine to continue so we will keep reaching even higher.


Brian Van Bower runs Aquatic Consultants, a design firm based in Miami, Fla., and is a co-founder of the Genesis 3 Design Group; dedicated to top-of-the-line performance in aquatic design and construction, this organization conducts schools for like-minded pool designers and builders.  He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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