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Stepping Up

By Brian Van Bower

5-yrs‘I’ve written several times in the past about the fact that more and more landscape architects and designers are getting into watershaping. As evidence,’ wrote Brian Van Bower in his Aqua Culture column for December 2007, ‘all you need to do is look at design-award competitions in the pool and spa industry and note the increasing number of submissions from landscape professionals.

‘This general trend isn’t new, of course, but what is new,’ he added, ‘is an extension of this tendency in which landscape professionals are elevating watershapes to the forefront of their design programs and are in fact making water elements of all sorts their key design elements.’ He continued:


‘In my own practice, for example, I’ve noticed a significant increase in projects in which landscape professionals are weaving multiple watershapes into given settings. You may need to put that point in context: After all, it wasn’t all that long ago that a typical landscape plan was focused primarily on planting areas, pathways and hardscape structures – with, almost as an afterthought, a single watershape in the form of a small fountain or, more commonly, a swimming pool of some kind.’


‘[W]hat I’m seeing now are plans that could be fairly labeled “water-centric” designs . . . in which pools and spas are surrounded on a site by everything from ponds and streams and formal fountains to waterwalls, water-focused sculptures, reflecting pools and a range of other liquid assets.’


‘Certainly, the extent of the opportunities will vary from watershaper to watershaper, but where it seems most promising is in those situations in which watershapers are finding themselves working as equal partners with (or taking the lead among) other professionals engaged in the design process. Of course, this represents a distinct shift in mentality for most of us who came up through the traditional pool/spa industry, where we were once relegated to subordinate roles but now must move with confidence and personal authority among highly successful architects and landscape architects.’


Personally, I find . . . stimulation and professional challenge within the . . . scope of watershape design and feel no great compulsion to pursue other valuable forms of expertise. What I am compulsive about, however, is in learning as much as I can about those other disciplines so I can speak forthrightly and intelligently with architects, engineers and all the other professionals whose paths I might cross.’


‘To engage these trends fully, we need to be prepared to meet the expectations those other professional have so that, in the initial stages, we can provide detailed plans calling out materials, a variety of construction details and engineering specifications for plumbing and equipment. Familiarity with computer-aided drawing (CAD) systems is a huge plus in these environments.’


‘[R]egardless of where you perceive your business to be pegged – commercial or residential, mid-range or high-end – all watershapers need to be ready to step up and participate as equals in the design and planning processes or grab the reins and take the lead.’


‘It’s exciting,’ Brian concluded, ‘to think that we’re at a point where watershaping has become a true design specialty and that we have a place at the table with the traditional high-level design disciplines. . . . If you’re up to the challenge, the future is bright.’

Has Brian’s observation that watershapers were more frequently winning seats at the design table held up through the vagaries of the Great Recession – or is this a time when gaining access to those chairs is even harder than it was before? Please share your thoughts and observations below!

Brian Van Bower runs Aquatic Consultants, a design firm based in Miami, Fla., and is a co-founder of the Genesis 3 Design Group. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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