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Square Roots & Cross Purposes
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Square Roots & Cross Purposes

Tailoring pool designs that marry the clients’ desires with the setting is always top-of-mind for Joan Roca. Here, he describes a project on the Florida coast that stands as a perfect example of his design approach. In this case, he turned to a basic shape and a host of custom details, to create a watershape that offers function, and a striking centerpiece that unifies house, land and sea.    

By Joan Roca

This project represented an exciting opportunity to do something special for the homeowner, and to create a body of water that is well-suited to the oceanside property.

When I became involved, the beautiful custom contemporary home was under construction. There was also the shell of a pool that was already being built. It was an unusual situation in that the property had recently been sold to a new owner in the middle of construction.   

The new homeowner said he didn’t care for the pool that was being installed and asked me, “What would you do here?”


That simple question opened the door to a discussion that ultimate resulted in this uniquely square pool. The first thing I said was that we could do almost whatever he wants. I started asking important questions including how many people are in the family and how would they want to use the pool, and do they plan on entertaining?

Through the course of the conversation, I explained my feelings that the best approach would be to start over completely, because the pool that was there was not created for him and his family.  

He agreed and we decided to come up with an entirely different design. The more we talked, his ideas began to take shape. He wanted a big pool for lap swimming and his family planned on entertaining. They wanted a spa where they could relax and enjoy the ocean view, and he explained they really wanted a shallow area, such as a Baja shelf mainly to give the family dog a place to play and enjoy the water.

Finally, he said he wanted it to have a custom design that was architecturally interesting. He wanted “something special.”

Considering all those criteria, as well as the setting and the modern architecture of the house, I came up with a pool design in the shape of a cross, or more accurately a cross inside a big square. The basic idea was you could swim in one direction and play in the other. Looking toward the ocean we located the spa in one corner of the cross and the shallow area for the dog on the opposite side.


On the house side we located sets of stepping pads in the corners, which the client said he likes. I hadn’t included the pads in the original design, but the client really wanted them so we made the pool a little bigger, 40-by-40 feet. Admittedly placing the stepping pads in the corners is not very functional; they are mostly there as an aesthetic detail, which completes the appearance of the cross.

There’s a deck-level Lautner edge treatment on three sides of the pool creating a seamless visual transition from the reflective water’s surface to the surrounding deck areas. (Everything beyond the edge of the pool was by the general contractor.) The ocean side of the pool looks like a vanishing edge, but actually flows into a bed of pebbles instead of a traditional catch basin.   

The spa is a perfect 12-foot square, raised one foot above the pool surface with a 360-degree perimeter overflow. The idea is that the raised edge provides an easy way sit down and then swing your feet over into the spa, giving everyone an easy way to get in and out of the water.

Perhaps the most unusual design element is a linear fire feature on the outside of pool between the pool and the ocean. Originally, the owner had mentioned that he wanted some type of fire elements, probably in bowls located on the corners, using the fire to frame the view. I thought rather than go that route, which is very popular these days, maybe we could go with a line of fire just beyond the edge.

The client loved the idea and at first, we contemplated having the fire line run the entire 40-foot edge of the pool. As we considered the design detail, we came to the conclusion that that would be too much fire. So, instead we placed the fire only between the spa and the doggy Baja shelf.

That amounted to 14 feet, comprised of two 7-foot burner fixtures that are mounted just outside the bed of pebbles.


Backing up a bit, I supervised the construction, which was expertly done by Crown Pools, Jacksonville, FL, with whom I work with on a regular basis. The pool is built on a system of concrete friction piles connected by grade beams. The shell is poured in place, as opposed to shotcrete, which I prefer in situation that require ultra-precise tolerance. The result is a precise structure that’s square, plumb and dead level throughout.

Like many major markets in the U.S., interior finishes are typically either some version of plaster or exposed or polished aggregate. Due to the expense, all-tile or all stone interiors are more of a rarity, even among upscale clients.

This was the first project they’d done with an all-stone interior finish. In my discussions with the client, I showed him images of pools that I had designed in Central America that were finished in marble panels. He loved what he saw and wanted to move forward with the upgraded finish material.

The material we used here, and in past projects I’ve done, is from Greece. It’s a gray marble with veins of white, known as Aliveri. It’s a beautiful material that requires precise attention to detail in areas such as the Lautner edge or steps where the corners need to be rounded using a grinder.

Fortunately, I’ve been able to work with a three-man crew from Nicaragua that I’ve used several times in the past, who have experience fashioning the stone on site for these types of precision applications. They do amazing working fashioning the custom pieces to look as though they’ve been fabricated in a factory.

Using the large flat marble pieces makes it impossible to create a curved cove at the wall/floor transition at the bottom of the pool. Here we opted for a beveled 45-degree angled transition that would accommodate movement of an automatic pool cleaner.

Note: the surface of the stepping pads is finished with the same material, but it’s sandblasted rather than polished to provide good footing.  

There are three plumbing systems, one for the edges that circulates the water from a “compensation” tank, then another that circulates water directly from the pool main drains, and there’s a separate spa mode that isolates the spa circulation.

In this project, the customers opted for a saltwater chlorination system and cartridge filters, both of which they chose for ease of maintenance and water quality.

Since completion, we’ve been told the homeowner is thrilled with his new home and swimming pool, and the dog loves it too!

 Joan Roca, a valued member of the International Watershape Institute, has been in the swimming pool industry since 1975, beginning is career in Costa Rica, where he would live and work until 2014. He earned his Industrial Engineering degree in 1984. Member of PTHA (former APSP and NSPI) since 1982. Certified Pool Operator by NSPF in 1986 and Certified Pool Instructor in 1988. In the ensuing years, he continued his education through more than 200 industry seminars and educational programs. He is now based in Jacksonville, Fla., working under his signature Joan Roca Master Pool Designer.

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