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10 year logoBy Brian Van Bower

‘Many great artists are best known for working in identifiable genres, styles or modes or with specific materials, themes or some other defining detail.  From Picasso’s cubist abstractions to Mozart’s cascading melodies or Rodin’s bronzes to Frank Gehry’s sweeping architectural forms, geniuses of all stripes are in one way or another known for qualities that are distinctly theirs.’

That’s how Brian Van Bower began his Aqua Culture column in February 2008 before continuing:  ‘The same holds true for many watershapers, especially those working at the top of the field.  While many of us (myself included) cross the lines that divide distinctive modes, styles and genres, even the most free-spirited among us can be identified by elements that, for want of a better term, might be called the touchstones of our work.’


‘This principle of identification isn’t absolute (from time to time we all play against type and do something out of the ordinary), but when I consider ways in which up-and-coming watershapers can elevate their work, I have the sense that mastering a particular element of watershape expression is one way to step up and gain a reputation for excellence.’


‘In watershaping terms, that means you need a working familiarity with and appreciation of (if not outright expertise in) soils and geology, construction techniques, details of workmanship, hydraulics, design history, materials selection, design principles, presentation techniques, customer relations, project management, water-quality management and about a thousand other sub-categories that line up under those headings.  Watershaping, in other words, encompasses a truly vast body of knowledge – so vast, in fact, that comfort with the fundamentals requires a long-term commitment to education, the acquisition and constant updating of technical knowledge and ongoing development of design acumen.’


‘The fact that someone may choose to move beyond a given genre doesn’t undercut the value of being identified with one style or another.  Indeed, I’ve know many watershapers who are multi-faceted but are nonetheless proud to be identified as specialists in a given design tradition.’


‘The range of possibilities for specialization is almost limitless.  You could, for example, become known for combining fountain features with swimming pools or for using elaborate rockwork or for developing dazzling dining/entertainment areas.  You might also work with a specific type of material . . . or for an unusual look, such as the deployment of fire features in conjunction with watershapes.’


‘That very last example leads me to an important point:  When you move in a particular direction, you might do so in response to a trend – and certainly fire effects and outdoor kitchens qualify along those lines.  The key is finding a trend that makes sense and has legs that can carry you into the future no matter what changes you might make or turns you might take as your career unfolds.’


‘Within all watershaping fields – ponds and streams, pools and spas, fountains and architectural features, tranquility and meditation gardens, competition pools, interactive water systems, even bird baths and zoological exhibits – there are always categories within categories, sub-genres within genres, and each can provide marks of distinction to those who master them.’


‘None of us,’ he concluded, ‘needs to feel compelled to master every one of those possibilities; who would have that much time?  But whatever speciality or signature you choose, the big point here is that there’s power in being deliberate in setting your course:  Once you set your direction and begin gathering the education and information you need to follow your chosen path, you never know how far you’ll go, how high you’ll climb or where else your steps might lead you.’

Does Brian’s sense of the value of specialization make sense in today’s working environment?  Or has the pressure to do whatever it takes to keep going forced you to paint with a broader brush?  Let others know what you think by sharing a comment below.

Brian Van Bower runs Aquatic Consultants and is a co-founder of Genesis 3.  He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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