British design firm, Splinterworks (Bath, UK) has made a mark in the watershaping world by reimagining waterslides. Taking a truly daring design approach, the company combines form and function into structures that are as much works of sculptural art as they are pieces of poolside play equipment.
By Miles Hartwell and Joanna Needam
When most people think of waterslides, their primary focus is fun. Kids of all ages love waterslides, while as many parents and grandparents like the idea of creating a mini-waterpark experience in their backyards.
At the same time, waterslides have never been known for their aesthetic value. They are, at best, an awkward looking appendage that some people consider an eyesore. Many watershapers and landscape architects are reluctant to include slides because of their appearance, and only do so when a client insists.
At Splinterworks, we set out to challenge that status quo.
After years of product development, we now create slides that are decidedly sculptural in appearance. We are often told that these fun features are unlike anything anyone has ever seen. No one had ever tried to elevate slides into the realm of contemporary art.
Fortunately for us, we’ve discovered a very specialized niche where discerning clients want something no one else has. Far more than a novelty, our products have gained widespread attention and a growing list of satisfied customers. It’s been a largely unexpected journey, one that’s required ongoing adaptation.
Here’s how it happened.
Our company was established in 2009 with design-driven mission that was, and remains, creating objects that are both artistically inspired and fun to use. In our own unusual way, we work to enhance people’s daily lives with designs that successfully marry form and function.
Slides were not our initial focus. We started off making what we called “sculptural kitchens,” an idea that didn’t really gain much traction in the market. The Great Recession had hit, temporarily turning the world economy upside down — making it tough selling people, even wealthy ones, on new ideas that cost a lot of money.
We soldiered on and became ever more creative in our designs, seizing various opportunities that came our way, including the opportunity to use the facilities at a Formula 1 race car manufacturing studio in their low-season when they are not busy making chassis. We designed a carbon-fiber hammock bath, that is baked in the same autoclave the sections of these incredibly light car parts are made in. It’s been a constant evolution, although our intuitive design philosophy has remained the same.
It’s been a step-by-step process where one commission has led to another. In 2015 we developed our first slide. We were designing bespoke furniture for a client in the US, who had a pool. Their kids desperately wanted a slide, but they were naturally wary of ruining their beautifully landscaped pool area.
We offered to make them one that would hopefully enhance rather than detract from their stunning surroundings. We created a sculptural cantilevered metallic copper slide, that burst from the deck like a shoot of water.
Unfortunately, translating the inches-thick bible of US safety codes into slides, meant we had to add an overhead handrail at the top of the slide, which was necessary, but aesthetically we would have preferred it wasn’t there.
The slide was so well received, and understanding the unique product we could potentially offer, we took a two-year pause to work out how to translate these codes into sculptural slides.
We had a mission to create slides that were the antithesis of utilitarian and devoid of the structural armature. We wanted them to be sculptural highlights in their own right, but also a fun ride with the speed and turns to excite kids and big kids alike!
The initial inspiration from our first slide shape, has passed its design DNA into everything else that has followed.
Our slides – including models with names like the “Waha,” “Vertex” and “Reflex” – all have a futuristic, curvilinear look that is achieved through the creative use of design dichotomies or even deliberate contradictions — solidity versus weightlessness, motion versus stillness and strength versus fragility.
Some of our other creations include the “stiletto table,” a desk inspired by a high-heeled shoe, a levitating lounger chair, and numerous other similarly whimsical concepts.
SHAPES AND SIZES
We have always been interested in sculptural design; but, with our previous furniture works, we were not restricted beyond the ergonomics of human scale and function. With waterslides, however, it’s a very different challenge. There are incredibly detailed and strict safety codes that must be satisfied. It was a huge challenge to create a new vision within that strict framework.
This meant we had to become experts on things like friction coefficients, flow rates, size and pitch, turning radii, step design and many other parameters. It took us over two years to create designs that complied with U.S. safety standards and at the same time satisfied our design principles.
The form and function of these designs are completely intertwined. The function of a pool slide is only to have fun, while our free-flowing sculptural shapes take you on a journey — whether you are physically riding the slide or just following the form with your eyes.
They are literally “contemporary” meaning works that have been created in the present, and we dare say, have decidedly “splintered” away from conventional thinking. However, we believe they have an autonomous style, serving as timeless pieces that resonate in both traditional settings and modern designs.
We have since created many commissions, eventually resulting in standardized models, including the “Waha” slide, which has spawned many custom variations. We plan to create more models in the future and continue to create site-specific works for clients that appeal to their sense of style and surroundings.
People have never seen anything like what we are making, and we have had wonderful responses. . Our clients have invested in beautiful outdoor areas that include swimming pools. It’s fun working in such decidedly recreational settings, and we are pleased to offer a way to embrace fun times, for the kids and big kids alike, while doing so in a sophisticated and visually appealing way.
The approach has proven flexible. Our commissions have come from both the residential and commercial markets, as well as indoor and outdoor settings.
One of the significant challenges we’ve faced stems from the fact that these are metal structures made of high-grade stainless steel; and, not surprising, they can get extremely hot in direct sunlight. (We all remember using super-heated playground equipment as kids, so we knew that user comfort and safety had to be a priority.)
That’s why our slides come with proprietary sophisticated chiller systems. In hot weather, clients can activate the system with the touch of a button, sending cold water circulating throughout the slide structure, cooling the steps, handrails and other contact surfaces.
Water is introduced to the slide via a system of distributed jets along the length of the flume, creating an even flow and cooling the entire slide to the same temperature.
It’s a clever design, which has been successful in making our slides comfortable and safe to use. We don’t receive complaints about heat, even though the structures are often found gleaming in the sun. They look like they’d be hot, but they’re not.
Because our slides have been so successful, despite the fact that they are much more expensive than typical waterslides, we’ve received a great deal of recognition, including being a recipient of the prestigious “Pinnacle Award” from Luxury Pools Magazine for the last two consecutive years. We’ve also received positive reviews and coverage in other publications, such as AQUA Magazine back in 2017.
We’re always working on new concepts. As our reach expands into different markets, we continuously work with new designers, contractors and their clients. It’s been an exciting “ride” to say the least.
Miles Hartwell co-founded Splinterworks in 2009 with fellow designer and artist Matt Withington. Hartwell has an extensive background in design technology and worked for several furniture design studios before forming the company. Joanna Needham is the company’s public relations, copywriter and social-media manager.