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Higher Purposes

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WaterShapes LogotypeEric Herman

Lately I’ve noticed a fascinating trend among the projects we’ve been approached to publish – a string of articles about watershapes that, for want of a better term, have been designed with “higher purposes” in mind.

The projects have all been different in scope and scale and have come from across the spectrum of the markets we serve, but there’s been an unmistakable common theme present, one in which the art of watershaping is applied in an important and unusual way for the purpose of education.

In our January 2003 issue, for one, we ran a fascinating story by Seattle-area landscape architect Sandra Hasegawa Ingalls (“A Clear, Clean Public Service,” click here) in which she described the installation of a watershape for the headquarters of a rural water district. In addition to beautifying the grounds, the stated purpose of the stream was to make a clear, responsible statement about management of the local watershed and how healthy soils and plant life lead to clean water – good for wildlife and the district’s customers alike.

There was another quite different but equally compelling example of this educational tendency in our March 2003 issue, where, in “Helping Habitats” (click here), Mike Fowler described the installation of a filtration system for a pool designed to house convalescing marine mammals. A large part of the story had to do with the way in which the entire aquarium facility is used as a venue for public education about the environment and about the plight of dolphins, whales and other marine animals.

Now we come to the current issue and landscape architect Jane Shoplick’s description of the crafting of a fascinating watershape for the Montshire Museum of Science in Norwich, Vt. In her feature, she tells that tale of a wonderful stream that offers a variety of interactive exhibits designed to teach children about the processes of erosion, hydraulics and public water distribution, among many other things (click here).

In all three cases, we see vastly different examples of how watershapes can be used to educate and inform. It might seem a stretch to link them in the way I have, but I keep coming back to the fact that all three stories include accounts of the powerful reactions the public has had in each case – and compelling testimony from the authors about the pride they’ve felt in becoming involved in such ambitious and worthwhile projects.

This all may just be a coincidence and these projects simply unusual rather than representative of a trend, but it is clear at a minimum that each of these projects makes a statement about its community and about the mindsets of the watershapers who’ve brought them into operation. In each case, these facilities are being used to accomplish the important mission of raising public awareness about key issues of nature, science and the environment – and have engaged the watershapers in thinking about what they do in a singularly important way.

We all know that watershapes are often beautiful by design, and certainly they are almost all created to delight the senses and provide interesting recreational or visual experiences. In many respects, those same things are true of the three projects just mentioned. What we see in these situations, however, is an additive quality that pushes the envelope of possibilities even further.

Are we ready to add “the power to teach” to the already considerable list of things watershapes can do? Time will tell, but I think it’s a done deal.

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