Looking Ahead

By Jim McCloskey

Given the tumultuous way in which 2016 came to a close, I figured I’d kick off the New Year by being as upbeat as can be about what the future holds for watershaping.  Two news stories I’ve followed through the last couple months put me in a suitable frame of mind for this exercise.

First up was the hovering waterfall structure installed by Danish/Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson in the Gardens of Versailles:  On temporary display through the summer of 2016 and now, sadly, gone, it’s a reflection of the fact that there are many inspired, uniquely talented artists out there who see water as a fabulous and perhaps even the ideal artistic medium.  (To see it, click here.)

Eliasson’s daring use of water and brute technology entirely altered the prevailing mood of one of the world’s most familiar and renowned garden spaces – an amazing, almost otherworldly accomplishment.  But as I see it, his waterfall also capsulizes the bold progress mainstream watershapers have been making through the past 20-odd years and reinforces our desire at WaterShapes to make certain that excellence is recognized on every level of aquatic design and construction

The cool thing here is that Eliasson was influenced in his Versailles scheme by the original plan of the gardens’ architect more than 300 years ago, André Le Nôtre, who wanted to include a grand waterfeature of some kind along the axis of the Grand Canal.  This combination of historical gesture and artful audacity is just the tonic I need to think good things about the importance of watershaping’s role – and its future.

I had a somewhat more complex response to the second item on my list of optimism-bolstering projects.  In this case, it’s about a pool overlooking the Pacific Ocean in which the walls and floor have been tiled in tribute to “Starry Night,” the most celebrated of all the celebrated works of Vincent Van Gogh.

I have to say it’s more of an approximation than a literal rendering of an unsurpassed masterpiece (click here); it’s also difficult to find a view that captures the painting’s spirit this side of a helicopter ride.  But what I like – what inspires me – is that the client had the nerve to ask for it and that the tile contractor had the drive and determination needed to make it happen.

When I first saw this, my inclination was to poke around and find out who did the work – but then I decided I didn’t really want to know.  Somehow, it seemed preferable to leave it alone out there on the Internet as a hopeful symbol of artistic expression rather than as a project executed by someone lots of us may know.

It’s not what I’d call perfection, but it nonetheless reflects a level of ambition associated with watershaping that makes me happy to be alive.


Flipping optimism on its head for just a moment, I flagged an October story about the fact that being idled for long periods of time has done real damage to one noteworthy Los Angeles fountain, use of which has been severely limited due to California’s drought-related water restrictions (click here).

Specifically, the article discussed deterioration of the William Mulholland Memorial Fountain, long a cultural touchstone in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles.  (I wrote about it in one of my Travelogues a couple years back – click here.)   Originally built in 1940 and fully restored in 1996, the fountain has been operational only during sharply reduced hours as a result of the region’s lingering dry spell.

It seems that some of the materials used in building the fountain have dried out and are starting to crumble as a result of too much exposure to summer heat.  The city has announced plans to repair the damage and have things back in ship-shape sometime this coming summer, which is great, but I know this isn’t an isolated story:  Lots of fountains are suffering in this same way, and there are no easy answers when it comes to keeping them from falling – literally – on hard times.




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Stocking Stuffers

By Jim McCloskey

My Christmas stocking saw its first visit from Santa a couple weeks early this year.

It arrived in the form of a press release from the National Swimming Pool Foundation with a progress report on its Step Into Swim campaign, which started in 2012 with a mission of creating a million new swimmers by 2022.

The program, which should be familiar to all watershapers by now, is for children who cannot afford the lessons required to learn the life-saving skill of swimming as well as for the children of fallen first responders and members of the military.  The numbers tell an impressive story:  In 2016 alone, the New York park system’s “Learn to Swim” program taught 11,773 children to swim throughout the state.  In Fort Worth, Texas, local efforts saw 363 individuals learn to swim just through the summer months.  These programs come big and small, statewide and local – and the job is getting done.

I’ve long been an advocate of fostering swimming skills on every level and in every age group of our society.  As I see it, this is the best and perhaps the only way to ensure that future generations will be as comfortable around water as they need to be to make them interested in making watershapes part of their lives.

NSPF focuses on pools, but I see far broader relevance and benefits:  Basic comfort around water may well be the key driver behind the markets not only for swimming pools and spas, but also for ponds, streams, waterfalls, fountains and all other conceivable forms of contained, controlled water.

As NSPF CEO Tom Lachocki said in the press release, “When we deliver water into people’s lives, we deliver more life for people.”  It’s all about the future, and Step Into Swim can use your support.  For more information, click here:  If you see the positive implications of this program, please send a donation that will enable Santa’s helpers to stuff the stockings of thousands of eager children heading into 2017 – and beyond.


You may have noticed it when, last October, we added a new wrinkle to the home page of WaterShapes.com.  Many of you spotted it right away, but I wanted to give it a big shout-out here to make certain this new feature becomes a routine part of everyone’s WaterShapes.com experience.

What I’m referring to is the “Crystal Fountains Video Showcase,” a sponsored space on the right-hand side of the home page that lets you know what’s up at Crystal Fountains, a Toronto-based design/engineering/consulting firm that has been responsible for many of the world’s most innovative and spectacular fountains and interactive waterfeatures.

Each month, they’re embedding a link to a fresh video about one of their projects.  So far, they’ve covered the Loews Sapphire Falls Resort in Orlando and Polk Bros. Park at the entrance to Chicago’s Navy Pier.  A new one will appear January 1.

The videos are brief, entertaining and do a great job of demonstrating what happens when bountiful creativity meets up with leading-edge technology.  To get to our home page, click here.  You’ll see the Crystal Fountains Video Showcase partway down the page on the right side.


To you and yours from me and mine, please accept best wishes for a safe, happy holiday season and the very best in a great New Year!

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Water’s Power

By Jim McCloskey

Designers and builders tend to think about water as a beneficial feature, an artistic medium, a resource for exercise and hydrotherapy and beauty and awe.  You all experience that water at its contained, controlled best and know exactly how much joy and delight flow when people are in or around water as part of their daily lives.

But this material, as has often been stated in articles we’ve published through the years, has a scary side we cannot overlook – and therein hangs this tale.

I spent several days in New Orleans and the on the Gulf Coast after the International Pool|Spa|Patio Expo ended on November 4.  Judy flew in from Los Angeles that evening, and my brother and his wife joined us from their home in Mississippi – good times even if all we’d have done was sit around and talk.

But we did more than that.  After spending about six hours walking around the French Quarter one day, we decided to join a driving tour and see more of the city than our feet would make possible.  This included parts of the Garden District I’d never seen before as well as a couple cemeteries that are a bit off the beaten track.

But mostly, and this should have come as no surprise to us, the tour was about Hurricane Katrina and how much the city has changed in the almost exactly 11 years since the water rose and the levees failed.

It was phenomenal.  We rolled through neighborhood after neighborhood where everything we could see had been under eight to 12 feet of water for days after the storm passed.  We saw so many places where there were gaps in the lines of homes where one had been destroyed and others rebuilt or restored around it.  We heard stories of heroism and cruelty, hope and despair – all swirling around the awesome power of water to affect lives.

It was a sobering experience, but there was more in store during our trip to my brother’s home in Pascagoula, Miss.

Leaving Louisiana, we headed toward to Gulf Coast and, driving through Pass Christian, Gulfport and Biloxi, saw the same sort of mass devastation and only partial recovery from the storm even eleven years later.  The same surge that overwhelmed New Orleans hit these coastal cities as well, wiping out most of the region’s cultural heritage, huge numbers of pre-Civil War mansions and almost every residential and commercial establishment within striking distance of the Gulf.

We saw the same thing in Pascagoula, where perhaps a third of the waterfront lots now have homes on them, none of them now in the classic Gulf Coast style.  My brother’s home came through unscathed, but think of this:  He’s on a hilltop more than 30 feet above the mean high tide line on Pascagoula’s river.  The river is more than a mile wide in front of that hill, and the storm surge was so intense that water actually lapped onto his front porch.

Think of the force of that storm; think of the countless billions of gallons of water it pushed upriver; think of the noise and horror tied up in that event, which reshaped so much of the Gulf Coast from Texas to Florida.

I love water, but my mind was reeling by the time I left Mississippi behind.  And oh, before I forget:  We were there during a two-month drought that destroyed crops all through a region where rain is usually so plentiful and reliable that there are few irrigation systems in place to take care of such shortages.

I love water, but it took only a couple days to remind me that it absolutely demands our respect  – and maybe that we fear it more than a little.

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Brighter Horizons

By Jim McCloskey

I’ve just returned from the 2016 International Pool|Spa|Patio Expo – a bit tired but, as usual, satisfied with the experience.  As I had hoped, I enjoyed lots of conversations about future articles and an unusual number of chats about advertising and sponsorships.  Also, the show took place in New Orleans, so I had a few too many fantastic meals and shared just the right number of great bottles of wine.

Other than a nagging sense that I need to shave off a few recently gained pounds, two big thoughts come to the surface when I think about my latest visit to the Crescent City:

[  ]  Although I was marginally disappointed that the process of merging the National Swimming Pool Foundation and the Association of Pool & Spa Professionals isn’t quite so far along as I suggested it might be in my November 2 blog, I am nonetheless impressed by what I see as the emergence of a good organizational and philosophical infrastructure.

In that blog (click here), I reported that the avowed purpose of the gathering of industry leaders was communication about the NSPF/APSP unification process, followed by discussions of “opportunities for market growth and of ways to work together for individual prosperity and the common good.”  As I mentioned to NSPF’s Tom Lachocki a couple days after the meeting, it’s important to put agenda item number one behind us so we can focus more steadily on agenda items two and three:  They represent the real meat and potatoes that almost certainly prompted thoughts of unification in the first place; they are also issues the industry has had trouble addressing for all 31 of the years through which I’ve been an interested observer and an occasional activist.

I don’t know the current crop of folks at APSP the way I did the staff and directors of the old National Spa & Pool Institute in the early 1990s, but I remain confident that, like those I once knew so well, they’ll do what it takes to negotiate successfully and align themselves with NSPF – another cast of characters with which I am only glancingly familiar but who all seem earnest and sincere about making the new relationships work.

The main reason I want unification to move along sooner rather than later is that these organizations clearly need each other to build and manage the bridges required to focus the entire industry – pool and spa, commercial and residential, members and non-members, manufacturers, distributors, retailers, builders and service professionals – on issues that matter.

I continue to be impressed by the ongoing efforts I see:  The information currently being gathered and processed is of real importance to the future of watershaping.  My one hope is that the process finds momentum in the weeks ahead and really get moving!

[  ]  I have been encouraged to declare this high level of optimism about the unification process because I’ve watched what’s been happening as NSPF has taken my comrades at Genesis under its organizational wing.  I’ll confess that I was skeptical when I heard the news about their merger a year ago, but if what I saw at this year’s Expo is any indication, things are going quite well:  Educational sessions in the convention center’s classrooms were well attended, while seminars and short courses on the show floor were generously populated and well received.  All seems on a steady, upward course.

My concern has been that, with Brian Van Bower and Skip Phillips stepping into new roles as Ambassadors for the program they co-founded with David Tisherman in 1998, the continuity that has always marked the Genesis approach might somehow wander.  I don’t get a sense that this is happening, and – no offense to Skip and Brian – I’ve actually come to like the thought of the torch being passed to a new generation of leaders.

I’m sensitive to what goes on with Genesis not only because WaterShapes and Genesis were started within a couple months of each other in 1998, but also because, from the beginning, we’ve shared core value systems and basic philosophies when it comes to watershape design, engineering and construction.  I like that, and it motivates me to stay involved and help when and where I can.

As I see it, participation of this sort is my ticket to the future of WaterShapes.com.  It makes me want APSP and NSPF to push past all of these transitions in the shortest possible time so we can all march together toward brighter horizons.

Maybe you should get involved, too.

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The Unfolding Process

By Jim McCloskey

This edition of the WaterShapes newsletter is appearing on the opening day of the International Pool|Spa|Patio Expo.  By that Wednesday, I will have been in New Orleans for two days – and will have landed late enough on Monday evening that I will have missed all of the Hallowe’en festivities.

That’s fine by me:  I’ve been in New Orleans for three Hallowe’ens through the years, and that’s enough:  The whole scene on Bourbon and all surrounding streets on such occasions is just too much.

Far more important, by that Wednesday I will also have attended what’s being billed as the Industry Executive Forum, an event run by the National Swimming Pool Foundation, RMS Media Group (which publishes Luxury Pools magazine) and Hanley Wood (which publishes Pool & Spa News).  The stated purpose of the gathering is discussion of the impending unification of NSPF and the Association of Pool & Spa Professionals; of opportunities for market growth; and of ways to work together for individual prosperity and the common good.

That’ll be a lot to process in two hours, but I’m game.

In preparing for the meeting, I am aware that I have deliberately stayed out of the loop on the subject of the NSPF/APSP unification – and have to confess that I’m more than a little curious to learn what they’ve accomplished in the months since the two groups announced their surprising intention.

Judging by the second and third agenda items, I’m hopeful that they’re far enough along that it’s time to rally the industry behind the new entity, whatever form it ultimately takes.

It’s a shrewd step.  As a veteran of one long-ago “major reorganization” of what was then the National Spa & Pool Institute, I know from experience that getting the industry’s large pool of thought leaders aligned and on board is important.  When members of NSPI’s Long-Range Planning Committee (of which I was one) tried to make big organizational changes stick in the early 1990s, we quickly learned that nobody beyond the committee and NSPI’s management was ready — and those who hadn’t been directly involved didn’t much care for the surprises and changes they saw in what we proposed.

It was, as I recall, a good, constructive set of ideas.  But it was doomed from the start.

So here’s hoping that, by the time this blog appears, I will have been as impressed in fact by the Industry Executive Forum as I am in anticipation:  This unification process is of great importance, and I want it to succeed where other, similarly ambitious efforts failed.  Even more so, I am hoping that the new entity will, once and for all, find ways to focus the industry beyond mere organizational and territorial issues and instead raise our collective gaze to “opportunities for market growth” and “ways to work together for individual prosperity and the common good.”

Good agenda.  Fingers crossed.


If you’ve received this newsletter while in New Orleans for the show, please do remember to stop by the WaterShapes booth – #563 in the Genesis Pavilion – to say hello.  And if you’re so inclined, please do show me samples of your work and talk with me about what’s involved in publishing through our site.

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A Mighty Chorus

By Jim McCloskey

I’ve been up on my “river pools” hobby horse for a good while now, which is why I can’t believe I missed a great story from the online version of Outside magazine when it appeared on May 19, 2016.

Written by Erin Beresini and headlined, “Why Urban Swimming Pools Are Raising Millions on Kickstarter:  Inside the revolution to reclaim city waterways for recreation,” the article neatly encapsulates much of what I’ve been thinking about these watershapes – although for obvious reasons Ms. Beresini’s thoughts didn’t immediately extend to the immense commercial potential I believe they have.

She began:  “British architect Chris Romer-lee was on holiday in Zurich in 2013 when he had an epiphany.  Or, rather, a pang of envy.  ‘I couldn’t believe you could swim in the lake, which is right in the middle of the city center,’ Romer-lee says.  ‘There’s a whole series of public baths on the edge of the lake, and then you just enter the lake. It’s like a natural swimming pool.’ ”

Soon thereafter, reports Beresini, Romer-lee spotted a request for proposals about the future of London’s River Thames, in response to which “Romer-lee and his partners at his firm Studio Octopi knew exactly what to do.  ‘We presented a utopian vision of swimming in the Thames,’ he says.  The idea – for floating pools of natural Thames water – was one of five selected to present to a panel of advisors and to the public.  ‘That led to the Kickstarter campaign, which was a spectacular success.’ ”

The Kickstarter campaign for Romer-lee’s Thames Baths project made other architects take note, writes Beresini.  Soon, “Romer-lee realized he was not alone in his desire to reclaim city waterways for recreation. In fact, he’s not alone in designing floating pools that naturally filter city river water, either; the swimming hole is fast becoming the modern metropolis’s new must-have.”

She then mentions New York’s Plus Pool, Berlin’s Flussbad, Houston’s Swimming Hole project and efforts in Portland, Ore., to reclaim the Willamette River for recreational use – all of which I’ve brought up in previous blogs.

In the 1940s and ’50s, Beresini observes, London had an Outdoor Swimming Society, but it faded when indoor swimming pools became popular and people started preferring their heated confines to the chilly waters of the Thames.  Then pollution became a factor further discouraging river use – a two-front pattern of dissociation repeated in urban centers around the world.

“Large-scale efforts to clean city waterways [are] a big reason so many people are trying to bring back swimming,” she notes, adding that the simple desire to reconnect with nature and even recognition of spiritual ties to water have come into play.

“[S]everal cities have already opened natural swimming spaces,” she writes.  “Vienna has its own dedicated swimming channel in the Danube, the result of a flood-control project started in the 1970s, for example, and Brisbane’s Streets Beach opened in 1992.  More recently, Copenhagen welcomed Kalvebod Waves, a natural water park completed in the city’s harbor in 2013 that strongly resembles what Romer-lee is trying to achieve.”

In many cases, she concludes, the architecture of these pools “contributes to the health of the waterways and their ecosystems by using wetlands to help filter the water and create wildlife refuges.  . . .  From a human health and well-being point of view, the projects offer people a new public space and way to connect in nature. And then, of course, there’s the opportunity to swim.”

Some of these projects have, according to Beresini, raised hundreds of thousands in Kickstarter funding, so there’s clearly broad public support for the river-pool concept – and, dare I say it again, a wonderful opportunity to fill this marketplace with turnkey systems that speed the global proliferation of river pools.

A day at the urban beach, anyone?

To see the complete Outside article, click here.


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I’m Not Alone . . .

By Jim McCloskey

When I wrote about the trend toward floating “river pools” in my July 13 blog (click here), I had no idea I’d pick up quick editorial support from TravelandLeisure.com, the web site for the grand magazine of the same name.

In an article entitled, “Absurdly Scenic Floating Pools to Add to Your ‘To-Swim’ List,” Erika Owen flashes through five of the world’s current pools-on-water in gorgeous fashion (click here).  “Sometimes the situation just calls for chilling out in a pool that’s . . . floating on top of another, larger pool. Not only do they provide some amazing unobstructed water views,” she writes, “barge pools can also be great spots to meet locals.”

“From a floating pool in the Seine to an ultra-luxe experience at San Alfonso del Mar Seawater Pool in Chile, all of these swimming pool experiences are bucket-list worthy,” she adds.  “Read on, grab your bathing suit . . . and start planning.”

I like her attitude – and understand it completely because the photos of the five pools are spectacular.  I’m particularly prepared to jet off to Italy’s Lake Como to enjoy the floating pool at the Grand Hotel Tremezzo – and I’m betting I could even find the time to head on over to the Villa d’Este while I’m in the neighborhood.

As the photos demonstrate, there’s vast potential in these pools – and great variety, too.  As I wrote previously, some deep-pocketed entrepreneur will make a bundle by turning these watershapes into turnkey systems suitable for any urban waterfront.


I’ll soon be finding editorial support in a much grander form when a book on the step wells of India is published sometime next year.

According to a report from Chicago Tonight (broadcast on WTTW, the PBS affiliate in the Windy City), “It was a chance glance over a wall in the Indian state of Gujarat in the late 1980s that set Chicago-based arts journalist Victoria Lautman on an obsessive course that only now is reaching its conclusion.”

She’s had much more time with this obsession that I have.  As you might surmise from my own Travelogue on step wells (click here), these structures have only nagged at the fringes of my thoughts since 2014, when I reported just how blown away I was by the audacity, beauty and technological genius of these structures.  I am entirely relieved to let her run away with a subject she’s pursued for nearly 30 years – a period in which she’s visited more than 100 of India’s remaining step wells, many of them in good shape but, alas, many of them crumbling with age and surrendering to erosion.

“Raising awareness,” she says, “is the only way these things are going to get saved.”

Here’s hoping her book accomplishes such a noble goal.  As the selection of images accompanying the Chicago Tonight web piece demonstrate, these are watershapes of sublime beauty and mystery and tell an amazing story of water management of the most elemental and urgent kind.

To see the full story (and those enticing images!), click here.


Just after I wrote the lines above, I saw a story about a new sort of step well being built not far from me in the hot, arid confines of the San Fernando Valley northwest of Los Angeles.  The $29 million project will improve the existing Tujunga Spreading Grounds to improve rainwater flow down into the valley’s vast aquifer.  According to a spokesperson for the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power, it will capture billions of gallons that would otherwise flow into the ocean – enough, they say, to supply 50,000 homes with water each year.

It may not be as beautiful as a step well, but in drought-weary Los Angeles, this project has a splendor all its own.

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