For some products, form and function can be difficult to marry, and for years, waterslides have largely fallen into that category. While slides add big fun to many an aquatic environment, they also typically rank among the more visually awkward features.

Enter Splinter Works, a British manufacturer that has introduced a line of waterslides that completely reinvents the concept. The company was formed in 2009 as a collaboration between design pioneers Miles Hartwell and Matt Withington, who describe themselves as "instinctively driven" to create objects that are engaging, inspiring and a delight to use.

Their slide designs, including "Waha," "Shoot," and "Reflex," typically have an experimental, even theatrical look achieved through the creative use of design dichotomies — solidity versus weightlessness, motion versus stillness and strength versus fragility — as well as innovative material selection.

Splinter Works' cheeky approach to design isn't limited to slides. Some of the company's other creations include a bathtub that resembles a hammock; the "stiletto table," which is a desk inspired by a high-heeled shoe; and the "bodice rocker," a chaise lounge that can stand upright like a piece of contemporary sculpture and, with a touch, turn into a chaise.

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Suffice to say, each of the company's products makes a wholly original statement. Here, we speak to Splinter Works co-founder Miles Hartwell, who explains the company's perspective that in making its slides so fun and intriguing.


AQUA: Slides have always been fun, but they can also be unattractive. What challenges did you encounter while creating your slide design?

Miles Hartwell: We have always been interested in sculptural design, but with our previous works we were not restricted beyond the ergonomics of human scale and functionality. With waterslides, however, there are incredibly detailed and strict safety codes, so this was a huge challenge to create a new vision within that framework.

It took us over two years to create designs that complied with U.S. safety standards and satisfied our design principles. Through this process we realised why no one else had tried to do this!

AQUA: Was it difficult to marry the form and function of slides with sculptural art?

MH: Actually, the form and function of these designs are very intertwined. The function of a pool slide is only to have fun, and our free-flowing sculptural shapes take you on a journey whether you are physically riding the slide or just following the form with your eyes.

AQUA: Do you consider the designs "contemporary"? In what ways were you conscious of style?

MH: Naturally they are "contemporary," being new works that have been created in the present. However, we believe they have an autonomous style. They serve as timeless pieces that resonate in both traditional settings and modern designs.

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The very first slide we made was based on a shoot of water propelling into the air from the ground. It was this slow motion, freeze-framed projection of water, captured at this vital moment, and it is this initial inspiration that has passed its DNA into everything else that has followed.

AQUA: Are you planning to create more models?

MH: Yes. We have created many commissions, and now we have the standardised Waha slide, which has spawned many custom variations. We plan to create more models in the future and continue to create site-specific works for clients that appeal to their sense of style and surroundings.

We have even created indoor slides to take you from one room to another without the need for a bikini!

We have had wonderful responses from our clients — people have never seen anything like what we are making. So many people have invested in beautiful outdoor areas with swimming pools, and we are pleased to offer a way to embrace fun times, for the kids and big kids alike, while doing so in a sophisticated, attractive way.

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AQUA: Is it possible that this approach to designing slides could be applied on a larger scale?

MH: The overall scale of the pieces is only restricted by building codes for the surrounding steps, as opposed to the slide, so for a significantly larger slide, we would need to integrate some more architectural elements. This being said, we love a challenge. If asked, we like to find a way!

AQUA: Do you enjoy creating something fun? Is the interactive nature of slides part of your inspiration?

MH: Absolutely. We were so fortunate to be there when the family who commissioned our very first slide came home and saw their slide for the first time. We'll never forget their joy and the beaming pride on the parents' faces in that moment. We saw how the slide pulled the family together, and we live to recreate that moment again and again.

Creating these works also gives us the opportunity to travel to some interesting places overseas, and particularly across the U.S., where we are running several projects at the moment.

Eric Herman is Senior Editor of AQUA Magazine.