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Feature Article - May 2015

Add 'Wow' to the Water

Trends in Aquatic Facility Design

By Deborah L. Vence


At many aquatic facilities today, you probably notice a vast difference in size and scope from years ago. Designs have evolved from basic, rectangular-shaped pools equipped with a simple waterslide into expansive architectural settings that boast a resort-like feel, complete with larger waterpark thrills.

"If a ride or pool type was originally only designed for a large-scale waterpark, it is now fair game for smaller facilities," said Adam Pfister, a designer at Water Technology Inc. (WTI), a Beaver Dam, Wis.-based company that specializes in aquatic planning, engineering and design. "As long as the budget allows for [it], and the feature is capable of being designed in the allotted space, then waterpark features are added."

For the past several years, many aquatic facilities Pfister has dealt with have wanted the "wow" factor that waterparks have, such as wave pools, lazy rivers and shallow water play areas for younger children.

"The challenge has been not only reducing these features in size to fit smaller footprints and budgets," he said, "but to combine them into one body of water to save on mechanical space. Other items that have been migrating their way into these venues are bowl slides and standing surf rides. These rides appeal to preteen and teenage users and fill a hard-to-hit demographic."

What's more, aquatic facility design has "evolved from being a subsidized space to a self-sufficient community space," noted Justin Caron, principal, vice president, Aquatic Design Group Inc., a Carlsbad, Calif.-based aquatic design firm. "This need translates into fewer new facilities, but larger, more aesthetically pleasing, universally accessible, multipurpose centers that can service the needs of many different groups."

In this issue, aquatic industry experts share their thoughts on the latest trends and advancements in facility design, and how it has helped facilities cut back on operating costs.

Design Trends

With a focus on being self-sustaining financially, sustainable (energy, water, etc.), multi-generational and multipurpose, as noted by Caron, aquatic facilities have paid particular attention to architectural details and architectural finishes that are visually appealing, such as rock climbing walls decked out with flowing waterfalls.

Designs have evolved from basic, rectangular-shaped pools equipped with a simple waterslide into expansive architectural settings.

"A lot of it is that they don't want to blend in, and improving the quality of finishes is something that we're seeing a lot of indoor and outdoor," said Scott Hester, president, Counsilman-Hunsaker, a St. Louis-based company that specializes in aquatic facility design.

In the company's general marketing piece, some of the current aquatic facility design trends are highlighted. For instance, it states that "tots are more comfortable splashing around in shallow pools with gentle water sprays and features tucked securely out of the way of the more active areas," while "older children enjoy romping in zero-depth leisure pools where the water starts at the deck and gradually deepens into a free-form shaped expanse of water, usually 1.0 to 1.5 meters deep." To boot, "zero depth is especially popular for children, seniors and persons with disabilities."

Moreover, "Children make their adventurous way across water walks and onto participatory play features with just-their-size attractions. Bigger kids speed down a plethora of twisting, turning waterslide configurations and scramble onto large water play structures. Raft rides, wave pools, climbing walls, springboards and zip lines appeal to preteen and teenage groups. Teens gather on action islands with access to deep water pools and extreme features such as swirl slides and [surf-riding] challenges."

Hester cited an aquatic facility design project his company completed in April 2012 in North Richland Hills, Texas—the NRH Recreation Centre.

"The facility has a lot of attention to architectural detail, and there you will notice that the architectural finishes are very nice. It has a rock climbing wall with a waterfall," he said.

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