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Now and Then

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WaterShapes LogotypeEric Herman

Last year at about this time, we ran a sequence of articles on watershapes of historic or monumental importance. These included such spectacular installations as the fountains and pools of Hearst Castle, the ambitious waterfeatures at the Getty Center, the inspiring public fountains of Kansas City and Frank Lloyd Wright’s transcendent Fallingwater.

It was a true tour de force, and many of you told us that you liked what you saw. Some even went to far to say that the articles had prompted them to travel to these places for personal, up-close looks at these masterworks of watershaping.

As both a follow-up to that series of articles and as a way to celebrate the conclusion of our fourth year of publication, we thought we’d add a couple more installations to our registry of iconic watershapes.

In this issue, for starters, you’ll find a glorious feature on Italy’s legendary Villa d’Este by landscape architect Mark Holden (click here). This is the place after which hotelier Steve Wynn patterned Bellagio in Las Vegas, and it’s remarkable to see how much a truly beautiful modern hotel pales in comparison to the original.

Located just outside Rome, this 16th-century estate is graced by dozens of watershapes – fountains, ponds and cascades – all powered solely by gravity and head pressure. Despite the technological limitations of the era and decaying effects of the centuries, the watershapes at this wonderful spot are still among the most beautiful and complex ever created. As Holden points out, this is a place that all watershapers should put on their itinerary.

Then we have a feature by fountain expert William Hobbs on his firm’s work in support of the designs of Maya Lin, the contemporary genius behind the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., and a string of other monumental installations – many of which include dazzling uses of water (click here). In these works, in fact, we see water used as a metaphor of time, change and the sweep of human history – a clear voice in the multi-layered statements she makes in her work.

Personally, I find this combination of articles to be unusually powerful – a genuine declaration of the aesthetic potency of water as a sculptural medium. Although Lin’s modernism and the Villa d’Este’s classicism are about as far apart as you can get in terms of art history, artistic style and physical scale, these monuments carry profound social and cultural messages through the interplay of art and water.

These deep, artistic resonances and the creative vision of the great watershapers involved in these masterpieces challenge us to meaningful, even spiritual, reflection. At the same time, we all know just how diverting and relaxing it can and should be to spend time in the presence of moving water. In other words, you don’t have to be an art historian to appreciate works such as these – but the deeper meanings are certainly there if you’re inclined to look for them.

Whether you endeavor on your own to create large public displays or intimate residential environments, it’s important to realize that, through the art and craft of watershaping, you are linked to a distinguished creative tradition that reaches back through the centuries – and propels us all into the future.

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