By Jim McCloskey
I’ve been around watershapes a long time – for more than three-quarters of my professional life. I started out with scientific and technical magazines in 1980, but once I started splashing around at Pool & Spa News in 1987, I never really looked back.
As it turns out, I found my way into the world of aquatics at a good time: Sure, the pool/spa industry was a bit self-satisfied in the 1980s as a result of its growth and successes through that booming decade, but there were things on the horizon that I don’t think anyone saw with great clarity. Watching those trends emerge and take form made things journalistically interesting at the time – and much more interesting a few years later.
My entire focus at first was on pools and spas. In the early 1990s, I started noticing that things were changing profoundly on the design side of things, and I have always attributed it to what was happening in France with the rise of vanishing-edge pools. These looks reached the United States on a slow roll, but by the end of the ’90s, what had been utterly revolutionary a dozen years earlier had become quite familiar.
By the time WaterShapes appeared in 1999, Eric Herman and I, both from the pool industry, had been following trends in pool design as a matter of course, but we had a lot of catching up to do when it came to serving the needs of the broader base we’d defined for our new magazine. We were now immersing ourselves (so to speak) in fountains and ponds as well, setting some boundaries and moving ahead with eyes wide open for what was new and interesting.
Our mission, of course, was to set up bridges across disciplines and serve the interests of people who worked not only on pools and spas, but also those who focused on fountains, ponds, streams, waterfalls and a host of other types of waterfeatures – everything in contained, controlled shapes, we said, from birdbaths to lakes. And before long, we recognized that the revolution we’d witnessed in the pool industry through the 1990s had its analogues in other sectors we were now following.
Early in the 1990s, for starters, a pond company called Aquascape had emerged. Its mission was world domination – or so it seemed. The more naturalistic-leaning in the pond and landscape communities greeted its massive arrival with suspicion in some quarters, disdain in others, but what was really happening was that Greg Wittstock and the Aquascape team had seen an opportunity to popularize ponds, streams and waterfalls on a mass scale, and it seems it was an idea whose time had come.
A bit later in the 1990s, a similarly earthshaking event took place when WET Design flipped the switches and initiated the Fountains at Bellagio. Certainly, this was the culmination of years of incremental progress in fountain technology and design, but I’ve always seen it as a turning point akin to Columbus’ “discovery” of America: Ever since WET Design opened the door to the amazingly dynamic, the significance of the event has been reinforced by the fact that the pursuit of radical creativity have been a hallmark of fountain work ever since.
At around that same time – just before the close of last century – three pool builders who found themselves standing resolutely outside the box started Genesis 3 and set the pool industry on a design-preoccupied course from which it has never significantly varied. David Tisherman, Skip Phillips and Brian Van Bower had a better idea, and it was the unique blending of their approaches to education and professional development that enabled G3 to make its mark, one that continues to be made to this day.
This was the roiling scene into which WaterShapes insinuated itself in 1999 – and in hindsight it was damned good timing.
Our mission back then was pretty much the same as it is today, but when I look at mainstream work that was being done back then in pools, spas, ponds, steams, waterfalls, fountains and other waterfeatures and compare it to what’s being done now, all I can say is thank you for the inspirational progress that continues to be made across the watershaping industry. There’s no comparison between then and now, I’m pleased to say, and you should all be extremely proud.