Over my many years writing about the pool and spa industry, I’ve witnessed scores of pools in the installation and renovation process. It’s a process that never ceases to amaze me.

I’ve seen pools built outdoors and indoors, in high-rises and tiny backyards, on large estates, cantilevered off the sides of mountains, by the ocean, in the desert, in lavish resorts and middleclass homes. Every pool is different from the last, every client has his or her own particular wish lists and complaints, and each contractor has his or her own method of making it all happen.

If there’s one thing that unifies all these different projects, from simplest to the most outlandish, it’s the complexity of the process. I came to appreciate that at a young age. When I was 10 years old, living in a modest suburban home in Southern California, our next-door neighbors had a swimming pool installed over the summer. We had just moved in and, not having any friends yet, I spent most of the summer of 1970 perched on the wall in our backyard watching the installation unfold, step by messy step.

The workers were amused by my attention and often took the time to explain what the were doing. I was full of questions. The process transfixed me, starting with the controlled devastation of the excavation, which transformed a nicely landscaped space into a temporarily chaotic hellscape. From there, the meticulous work of plumbing, structural steel, forming, gunite, plaster, setting the equipment and installing the salted concrete deck slowly unfolded. When the freeform vessel was finally filled and ready for fun, the neighbors took pity on this lonely boy on the fence and invited me to be the first to take a dip.

Little did I know how formative that whole experience would turn out to be. In a very real sense, that education in swimming pool construction laid the groundwork for a career observing and writing about the very same process. Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate more and more the challenge of building a swimming pool. Every facet has to unfold in careful succession, with each subcontractor playing a key role in the integrity of the fi nal product. All the while, the homeowner’s expectations, questions and stress must be regularly addressed and managed.

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I’ve learned how many things can go wrong, sometimes dramatically so. I’ve seen vanishing-edge troughs that have broken away and were discovered sliding down a hillside. I’ve witnessed the immediate aftermath of a popped pool and all manner of lesser problems. Many of my builder friends have confided in me about the lawsuits that can arise from construction issues, some frivolous and others far more serious. And I’ve seen the joy homeowners experience when it’s all finished. (And sometimes their frustration, too.)

All in all, the art of construction is a gritty enterprise in which a seemingly infinite number of variables define how the work moves — or doesn’t move — forward. Success requires patience balanced with brutally hard work and large doses of ingenuity and flexibility. Really, when you take it all into account, it can be amazing when pools are successfully completed – but they are, far more often than not.

The men and women who master the art of construction often make it look easy. I know some that take the toil and difficulty and transform the experience into one of joy, which is what makes this industry so special. And I know some builders who will admit the work takes years off their lives. Yes, pool construction is an art form, a craft and an exercise in overcoming obstacles. Like most art, there is a large element of sacrifice and struggle.

As we peruse this year’s registry of Awards of Excellence winners in this special issue, we see a spectrum of styles and project types, and it’s amazing to witness how varied and creative pools have become. While it’s easy to take the construction process for granted, it’s important to remember that these beautiful aquatic spaces all required remarkable levels of skill and dogged determination.

For my part, each and every time I see the process unfold, whether in person or simply through photos and personal accounts, I feel like that little boy sitting on the fence, yearning for the joy of jumping in crystalline waters.

Eric Herman is Senior Editor of AQUA Magazine.