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WaterShapes LogotypeBy Eric Herman

Frank Lloyd Wright once said that architecture is the art form to which all others subordinate.  That’s a bold comment from a man whose amazing achievements were matched only by the massiveness of his ego – but his words hold a profound truth just the same.

Indeed, many have argued that the design and construction of our own environments is the highest expression of human creativity.  These built spaces surround us and influence the nature and quality of our lives.  Homes and workplaces, public venues and outdoor areas – all are places in which what we see, hear, touch, smell and taste are inspired either wholly or in part by the will of the man or woman who designed and coordinated the space.

That’s why I see watershaping as being so compelling:  Through your work, you create these influential spaces for human occupation.  You create places to be, places where fun and beauty come together to provide distinctive experiences for all who walk to the water’s edge.  

If you think I’ve run off into some philosophical fantasy land, look at it this way:  Whether you recognize it or not, the creative decisions you’re making on the projects you’re doing right now, in the waning days of the summer of 2000, will be a part of other people’s experiences for years to come, time and time again.

When you look at it that way, watershaping is heady stuff, very much an embodiment of Wright’s ultimate art form – and something worthy of philosophical reflection.  What makes your work so powerful is not only that it involves all the senses, but that, like architecture, it’s also a fusion of form and function.

This all came to mind as I took another look at Steve Lucas’ story in this issue (click here).  Instead of human clients, however, Lucas was asked to create watershapes in a habitat for a pair of Bengal tigers.  To do it right, he looked at the world from the animals’ point of view and designed and built a space that served their physical needs while mimicking their native environment.

As Lucas reports, he and his team spent a great deal of time studying jungle settings and translating them as closely as possible to South Florida.  On one level, it’s a fascinating design/build story, but when you look at it from a broader perspective, what Lucas did for the zoo’s two tigers is much grander – and something you are implicitly asked to do for your human clients every day.

In a sense, building “habitats for human beings” means looking at their needs and desires with both form and function in mind – and taking those requirements as seriously as Lucas and company did when it came to the tigers.  It means considering interactive elements such as shade structures, footpaths, restrooms, cooking facilities and entry to and egress from the water.  It means building an environment where the needs of a person at rest are considered alongside the needs of the person at play or exercising.

This process also entails your consideration of the needs of parents to supervise their children, to serve drinks to guests, to listen to music and to see at night. It means understanding and considering all the things that can go on in the space you create and factoring those needs and experiences into your creative output.   

When you succeed in all of this, you provide your clients with an integrated habitat that satisfies both body and spirit.  Not a bad day’s work, I think.

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