The Alderbrook Resort & Spa (Union, Wash.) is designed to bring people into almost constant contact with bodies of water, both natural and man made. With its inspiring setting, beautiful indoor swimming pool, multiple water features and sustainable landscape, Alderbrook is both defined by aquatics while also serving as a perfect example of design that harmonizes with the surrounding environment — in this case, the landscape and waters of the Pacific Northwest.

In terms of design, the plain, utilitarian pool gains its aesthetic character by its relationship to the landscape and canal. Guests can swim and use the spa despite outside temperatures as they are treated to scenery that rivals any pool anywhere for unbridled beauty. The glass enclosure, dehumidification and air-handling systems keep the inside temps warm and the air quality pristine, all while offering 180-plus degree panoramic views. From the outside the pool area looks more like a greenhouse than an aquatics facility.

Although the most distinctly "man made" aquatic element on the property, the pool is very much part of the property's overall commitment to the aquatic experience. "Carrying the element of water throughout the property's landscape creates fluidity between the surroundings and resort grounds, which is an important aspect of the overall feel of being at Alderbrook," says Jim Vukelich, Alderbrook's engineering manager. "Maintaining a natural aesthetic, which goes hand-in-hand with the property's surroundings, creates a sense of harmony. The pool is an important and enduring part of that experience."

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There are two primary water features on the property, along with other smaller features. The first is a man made waterfall and pond formed from enormous boulders harvested in the local mountains. The multi-tiered creation is located in the resort's main courtyard and in effect visually links the lobby to the back terrace and dock area.

The feature includes a number of footpaths and landings where visitors can move among the water and sculptural rockwork. It is designed to mimic the plethora of natural waterfalls, streams and cascades that embroider the surrounding natural landscape, including nearby Olympic National Park. Because Alderbrook is host to scores of weddings each year, the feature frequently serves as a photo backdrop for brides and groom and wedding parties. It is one of the most trafficked and photographed spots on the entire property.

The other significant feature is a natural stream that runs through a complex of luxury cottages next to the main resort building. The stream runs through cottages, through the parking lot (which feels more like a park than a place to park cars), and then up into the surrounding forest where the resort maintains a system of trails that are designed and maintained by a full-time "trail designer." The trail system brings guests in constant proximity to the water, which is used by salmon to spawn annually.

"It's a great example of the property's commitment to the natural setting," Vukelich says. "During our 2002 renovation, the resort revitalized the stream that runs through the property as a local salmon habitat. Resting pools running throughout the property have been carefully preserved and approved by the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife to encourage annual salmon spawning."

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Environmental sustainability and preservation is a primary concern when designing and building in the Pacific Northwest. Oregon and Washington have some of the most stringent environmental regulations anywhere in the U.S., and in general environmentalism is a defining aspect of the region's culture. Alderbrook invested in a filtration plant it uses to create fresh water that is introduced into the canal. "The resort boasts its own waste-water removal plant, which received the Outstanding Wastewater Treatment Award from the Washington State Department of Ecology," Vukelich says. "The system uses an activated sludge plant and UV treatment to filter as much as 40,000 gallons of wastewater each day, depending on the season."

Throughout the property, the mostly indigenous plantings work to conserve water and provide natural habitat for local wildlife. The edible gardens not only supply ingredients for the resorts gourmet restaurant but are also used for gardening and cooking demonstrations.

The Pacific Northwest in general is not known as a huge market for swimming pools. Hot tubs are by far the most common form of recreational water. Yet, by the same token, the natural waters of the Puget Sound as well as the region's countless lakes, rivers and waterfalls define the region's culture and identity. Taken in total, it's fair to say that Alderbrook stands as a sterling example of design for this setting. It is truly a place defined by its waters.

"Whether guests are enjoying the calming sounds and sights of running water or indulging in the abundant culinary gems found in the Hood Canal, water is a key element of a visit to the property," Vukelich says. "Surrounded by nature, the smell of cedars and evergreens, the sound of water splashing against the rocks, visitors truly feel transported to a world away from the city." 

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Eric Herman is Senior Editor of AQUA Magazine.