Real-World Watershaping

By Jim McCloskey

In the past year, I’ve written Travelogues for WaterShapes EXTRA about the reflecting pool on the Capitol Mall in Washington, D.C., and the fountain at Point State Park in Pittsburgh.  In researching these watershapes and looking for suitable video links after selecting them for coverage and starting to write about them, I learned that both had been closed for renovation as I was pulling things together.

Apologies for the timing – although I’m reasonably confident none of you immediately packed your bags and made disappointing trips to either place.

The good news is that the reflecting pool at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial reopened late in the summer of 2012 after $34 million and two years’ worth of reconstruction work; the not-so-good news is that a massive algae bloom led officials to drain the pool again about 30 days later.  (I understand that the situation is under control and noticed in watching televised coverage of the presidential inauguration that the basin seems to be ready for close-up viewing.)

The fountain at Point State Park was similarly down for refurbishing when I wrote about it a few months back and is still not operational.  I’ve just seen reports, however, that it will finally reopen in June 2013 after a long absence as a key feature of the historic city’s waterfront.

It’s a reminder that watershapes of every sort and description need maintenance or course corrections from time to time – whether it’s a simple matter of ongoing attention or the occasional good and thorough overhaul.  Consider Rome’s Trevi Fountain, which, despite the fact it was fully renovated and its marble sealed in a major preservation project in the late 1990s, recently had some substantial decorative pieces break off after snow draped it early in 2012.

It’s a tough world out there, and it won’t come as a surprise to any of you that watershapes reside in tougher neighborhoods than most.

Hence this thought:  In the past 25-plus years, I’ve seen hundreds of watershapes in person, maybe even thousands of them.  Many have been brand-new, some have been remarkably old – and in most cases I find myself formulating basic questions about how they’re to be maintained, both in the near term and for the long haul.

I carry these thoughts in deep recesses of my mind and try not to let them intrude on my enjoyment of the achievements at hand.  In many cases, however, I can’t help wondering how these various pools, spas, ponds, streams, fountains, waterfalls and waterfeatures – some of which are amazingly elaborate and/or complicated – will ever be routinely maintained; more occasionally, I catch myself thinking about the intricacies of the work on display and the improbability of anyone’s ever being able to keep up with basic system requirements, let alone with the need to conduct periodic major repairs.  Yes, many of these are designed and installed with redundant systems and backup mechanisms at the ready, but it’s still a rough world out there!

I for one have spent more than a decade urging designers to think outside the box and exercise real creativity in their watershaping, but I have to wonder if progress on that front has come (at least in part) at the expense of maintenance and allowance for the eventuality of major repairs or renovations.  The question is, are issues of upkeep and future management something watershape designers are fully considering in the planning stages of a project, or are such concerns set aside because they intrude on the flow of creative juices?

I’m certain the people who renovated the reflecting pool in Washington had a sense they were working on something that would be function for more than a month and were surprised to be sent back to the drawing board so soon.  I’m also confident that the restorers who worked on Trevi Fountain a decade ago thought they had their ducks lined up in a neat row until chunks of marble started dropping into the basin.

Here’s the ultimate question:  Are watershapes getting too complex for their own, ongoing good?  Please do let me know how you approach these issues or what you think about them by offering a comment!

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