As I prepare to close the book on another year of WaterShapes, I can’t resist a bit of basking in the glow – a warm light radiated by an industry to which I’ve now dedicated more than 30 years of my life.
When I started back in 1986, that light was considerably dimmer. On the supplier end of things, there were too many companies willing to push unproved products out into the marketplace – stuff that came and went in the span of a season. To be sure, there were also dignified players who did things the right way, but those who chose to do their research-and-development work only after launching their systems into the marketplace set a tone that, at times, made me wonder what I was getting myself into.
On the creative side, there were relatively few professionals back in 1986 who truly deserved to be called designers. So much of the work was being pulled from template books and company archives that originality and innovation were as rare as were sensitivity to a site and its context. And with few exceptions, the true designers did all they could to avoid any association with other watershapers for fear of being painted with the same misbegotten brush.
Construction was a different animal in those days, too. The general ambition was to build faster and cheaper, so much so that I recall stories (mostly from Arizona and Florida) about pursuit of records for installation speed from the first shovel in the ground to insertion of the last drop of fill water. There were many quality builders in 1986, but they seemed locked in an absurd competition with contractors who low-balled bids, won good commissions and then under-delivered for disappointed clients.
Watershaping survived those darkish days, and so did I.
As I look back on 2017, I see that the nature of the game has changed to a depth and degree I never would have imagined 20-odd years ago. Suppliers, for instance, are delivering broad, deep ranges of outstanding products and systems, and some of them represent such a break with 1986 approaches that making comparisons seems a bit ridiculous. From lighting to control technologies and energy conservation to hydraulic efficiency, so many companies are on the same page now that it startles me – and makes me proud.
For their parts, designers have jumped so far outside the box I perceived in 1986 that comparisons are downright silly. Back then, architects and commercially oriented designers working on resort hotels had a near-monopoly on creativity and innovation. Now I see projects, particularly in the high-end residential market, that simply take my breath away. To be sure, there are many professionals who are borrowing liberally from their colleagues, but that’s always been the case – and the difference now is that the model projects are great and those who use them as guides are, of necessity, getting better and better at what they do.
Builders are set up in the same sort of positive feedback loop. I recall even 15 years ago listening to designers complain that they couldn’t find craftspeople who could consistently do right by their designs. I still hear those stories from time to time, but in general terms, the skilled workers in the watershaping marketplace seem to be up to just about anything these days. Partly it’s because modern plans offer them little wiggle room, but it’s my greater sense that so many of today’s designs have risen to a new, higher level that the trades have had no choice but to keep up and deliver.
When the partners in Genesis 3 started their crusade back in 1998 and WaterShapes magazine came on the scene a few months later in 1999, I saw our shared goals as having the potential to change watershaping for the better. I think that has indeed happened, but without many hundreds of designers, engineers and builders being willing and ambitious enough to step up to that elevated plane – and clients willing to demand more and better and beautiful – we’d be lonely indeed.
So while I enjoy the warm glow mentioned above, I’ll speak for my friends at Genesis and all of us involved with WaterShapes.com and raise the point that we’re radiating a reciprocal wave of gratitude. It’s a good time to be a watershaper, and a great, rewarding time to support and encourage their professional advancement.
The best is yet to come: See you in 2018!