Landscape architect and aquatic designer Michael Logsdon believes firmly that sound design doesn’t necessarily mean elaborate design. His company, Land Design (Boerne, Tex.), recently developed a line of pools based on the simplest of shapes — circles, squares, rectangles, ovals and kidneys — all used in artful ways for clients who want pools, but either don’t want or can’t afford elaborate bells and whistles.
Our company has long been known for designing and building high-end, custom pools and spas, alongside a spectrum of landscape elements beyond the water. We’re typically paid a fee for our design work, which is followed by a thorough master-planning phase prior to construction. It can be a lengthy, expensive and involved process that has led us into all facets of exterior design, in many cases for extraordinarily wealthy clients.
Unfortunately, like many, we’ve been hit pretty hard by the recession. Homeowners who can afford high-end projects are still out there, but the both size and number of those projects have diminished.
The good news is that we’ve found fresh opportunities among middle-class clients who have entered the market seeking affordable pools and spas (a trend some might find surprising given market conditions). In an effort to pick up the slack, combined with a genuine desire to work with people across a broader spectrum of income levels, we started a division called Watershapes by Land Design, a program centered on simple designs for people who want recreational water in their lives, but have more modest budgets.
Basically we’ve developed a “modular” program in which we create simple pools — circles, squares, rectangles, ovals and kidneys in various standard sizes. Clients can choose a number of standard variations including simple attached spas, decking, an array of finish materials, lighting, automatic control and energy-efficient equipment.
We build everything using the same standards of construction as in our more complex pools. As important we always apply what I consider “sound” design principles.
GOING TO CHURCH
The design concept tracks back to my earliest and most important inspiration in landscape architecture – the great Thomas Church.
My personal icon dating back to my college education in the early 1980s, I’ve read his book Gardens Are For People numerous times and use it as a touchstone for all of my design work.
Church based his design philosophy on four fundamental principles — unity, function, simplicity and scale. Whether in residential, commercial, institutional or public spaces, those four values are apparent in everything he did. I’ve always tried to follow suit within my own work and have found the truer I am to those values, the better the results.
Breaking it down in Church’s own words, from page 29 of Gardens are for People, he says:
“Unity means considering the scheme as a whole. Function is how the practical service areas serve the needs of the household and the relation of the decorative areas to the desires and pleasures of those who use it. Within simplicity rests the economic and aesthetic success of the space. Scale gives you a pleasant relation of the parts to one another.”
When it came specifically to swimming pools, Church created wonderfully effective vessels that were often round, square, ovalular and kidney-shaped. There was an effortless quality to the way he achieved simple, classic and timeless designs. Those pools looked great in the 30s and in many cases after being renovated three times they still look great today.
Ironically, when I started out in the business 30 years ago, most of my pools were simple too, but in my case largely because I didn’t know how to build anything else. As our company grew and gained experience, we advanced into more and more complex projects.
In a way, we’ve come full circle going back to those simple shapes, but now with the benefit of years of experience.
After decades of striving for and focusing on the big stuff, I’m finding this return to simplicity truly refreshing. There were times when those high-flown projects became so complex, so laden with bells and whistles I’ve felt they cut against the principles laid out by Church. It’s tough to achieve simplicity and unity when you have dozens of elements in play at the same time. Also, those projects can waste energy and resources. Both in aesthetic and functional terms, many of these clients would be served better by simpler schemes.
I’m not knocking high-end work by any means, that would be hypocritical, but there is something extremely appealing about projects that rely on simple shapes for success. A circle, for example, gives you the greatest amount of surface area with the least amount of perimeter. You literally get more water relative to the amount of excavation, forming, concrete and steel. Inevitably circles give clients the largest bodies of water for the least cost.
Although often used in fountain design and aboveground pools, for some reason circles have not been widely used in concrete swimming pools. As a result, even though circles are nature’s most common shape, they make for pools that are oddly kind of unorthodox in appearance, yet visually soothing.
Interestingly, with all of these simple shapes, each with its own visual character, you can’t really say that you design these pools exactly. After all, no one knows who discovered the circle, square of oval. Instead we are applying these shapes in ways that make sense for the setting.
Because they are simple to build, we can keep costs way down and still construct them correctly. We never compromise the pool structure to cut costs and every system is designed to operate at maximum hydraulic efficiencies.
Also, because they don’t include things like vanishing edges, laminar jets or other features that increase evaporation or water lost due to wind, these pools are efficient in terms of water conservation.
They are easy to clean and service and because the systems often consist of little more than a pump, motor and filter, there’s less to break down. We do offer energy efficient upgrades in the form of LED lights, variable-speed drive pumps and automatic control systems. (Most of our systems are based on Pentair products.)
Often times, the savings are so great, both in terms of initial construction as well as operation and service, clients are comfortable spending a little bit more in simple aesthetic touches. For example, many of these pools are raised 18 inches above grade, which creates seating around the perimeter, a great way to enter and exit the water. The raised beams give the pools the look of a fountain in many cases, or even the illusion of an old stock tank in others.
We have the option of cladding the sides in a variety of materials including ledger, stucco or tile. Also, we treat the tops of the walls with various capstones made of concrete or premium materials such as limestone or travertine.
We also offer simple attached spas, an option many clients won’t do without.
As with any pool, we can use any number of colored plaster or pebble surfaces. We also offer quality tile for waterline and other treatments. The idea isn’t to limit options, but in a way to open up the range of possibilities because the pools themselves are more affordable.
MADE TO FIT
Simple pools can fit in with almost any architectural style, from contemporary to classic to naturalistic or rustic settings. All of that gives us a surprisingly broad range of aesthetic choices that when combined with often equally simple landscape treatments in the surrounding area, we’re able to create beautiful aquatic environments that serve as points of pride, luxury, exercise and fun, just as well as many of the more-complex designs.
We’ve also found that customers who purchase these pools often do so with future plans in mind. After they enjoy their pool for a while, a year or two or longer, they will come back and expand with decking, an outdoor dining area, shade structure or a perhaps a fire feature. In the meantime, they have a pool they can enjoy knowing they didn’t over extend themselves financially.
Lastly, I’m an unashamed enthusiast and idealist when it comes to water in the landscape. I’ve always believed that someone who makes $40,000 a year has every bit as much right to swim and otherwise enjoy the water as someone who makes seven figures. These simple watershapes have given us a wonderful opportunity to create beautiful bodies of water for hardworking middle-class homeowners and their families.
That’s a great feeling, good business and ultimately, sound design.
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Michael J. Logsdon