By James Atlas
Cracking the Shell
Our finish work indoors included installation of the amazing clamshell structure over the swim channel at the end of the pool. Before long, the elaborate tilework drapery was flowing down over the steps, and the hard work began of cutting the coping material to fit a range of radii and complex angles.
The indoor space is marked by scores of other significant details, but in terms of complexity,none holds a candle to the giant clamshell that hangs over one end of the pool. It had been envisioned as part of the design from the beginning, but no one on the project team could get a handle on exactly what the client wanted. It was one of those rare times when her words and descriptions weren't quite enough, so it was something we basically tabled until the schedule really left us no choice.
The architect had worked with a couple of firms that specialized in various decorative displays, but the best anyone had come up with to date was an awkward-looking structure with large footings and intrusive supports – something they all seemed to think was needed as a safety measure with what was to be, after all, a big overhead structure.
During a meeting with Craig Bragdy Design's Nick Powell in which we were discussing various tile details, someone brought up the shell. Powell, almost as an aside, said he'd built something similar in the past; before long, he was quizzing the client to get a fuller impression of her idea.
She left for a few moments. Returning with a large, shellshaped pewter ashtray, she said that this was what she was after – only several times larger and suspended over the pool. Undaunted by the manifest difference in scale, Powell volunteered his company to bring her idea to fruition. A few sketches later, the client authorized him to proceed.
To keep the weight to a minimum, Powell's company contracted with a Welsh shipbuilder to construct a substructure out of the same material used to make the hulls of ships. They delivered the armature to Craig Bragdy Design, where artists applied the tile and then shipped the completed 13-foot-diameter masterpiece to the job site,where it now rises to a point about eight feet above the end of the pool wall.
The artists in Wales made the shell look as realistic as possible, with a beautiful mother-of-pearl treatment on the underside and a knobby, rough finish on the top – truly spectacular.
The shell's footings are integrated into the pool shell at the point where the spa and the wading pool meet. We triple-reinforced the connection with rebar and thickened the beam at that point to a three-foot width. This left us with the challenge of finding a way to conceal the various structural elements. Once again,Powell came through by wrapping the base of the shell in a shroud of coral mosaic.
The shell arrived on site in three pieces, and there was great anticipation as they were craned into place – and great relief when everything slid together. The shell was an immediate hit – especially when we turned on low-voltage uplights that illuminated the underside of the shell with a wondrous, shimmering, iridescent glow.
Also beneath the shell is a swim-out channel that runs from the indoor pool and through the deck and wall of the pool house to reach the outdoor pool. Although this detail was easy enough to execute, the spot where the channel passes through the wall involved creation of a movable acrylic panel that turned out to be the single greatest challenge of the entire project.
The mechanism had to be custom designed, engineered and built from scratch and caused sleepless nights for more than a few of us who became involved with it.
In context, this slidingpanel detail between the indoor and outdoor pools fades in comparison to the stunning visuals found elsewhere in this project, but no other element of this huge project involved more blood, sweat and tears than this one, no matter how modest it might seem in context.
First, it had to move up and down, retract fully into the wall above and run with mechanisms that had to be completely hidden from view. Second, it had to be sturdy enough to withstand the differential loads from water and bather surge pressing against it on both sides. Third, and most challenging of all, it had to be safe: With such a heavy piece of material moving up and down, we had to devise ways to keep it from trapping anyone beneath it.
On top of all that, it couldn't be a simple up/down,on/off mechanism: Instead, it needed to rise and drop into four positions: all the way down to the floor of the channel; just below the water's surface so the channel could still be navigated while the acrylic still kept the weather and insects out; to a level just above water level; and, finally, all the way up into the wall.
To make it work,we borrowed some technology from automatic pool covers: If it's being lowered and meets any resistance, sensors in the system make the panel rise back up; in addition, constant pressure must be applied to the switch to lower the sheet all the way to the bottom. Finally, it's equipped with tripleredundant internal safety features so it cannot slip out of its track or experience an uncontrolled drop.
Before we reached these solutions, we ran through a host of design iterations and worked with a wide array of engineers and firms – one of which went so far as to build a mock up for us, then told us that they couldn't make it work and actually gave us our money back!
Finally,we linked up with a local ironworks company in Chicago that put us in contact with Bill Petite, a gifted mechanical engineer who came up with a design that met all criteria and could actually be built. Even then,we had to sign several "hold-harmless"agreements before they would release the system to us.
The irony is that this is perhaps the least visually obtrusive element of the entire project. As a member of the Aquatech group of builders, I've run into and heard about lots of extremely complicated project features, but neither I nor any of my colleagues had ever run into anything quite so far off the beaten path as this one. A measure of this complexity is that we spent more than three years from concept to final installation!
Don't miss our next installment in this series, where we will talk about other interesting features including the swim-in cave, and the custom hand-painted tile from Wales.
This is Part II of long article which was originally featured in a 2009 issue of Watershapes Magazine. They ran the lengthy treatise in two large parts: The first one outlined the planning and actual construction of this elaborate project, and the second took more of a photographic look at the finished product. We will feature excerpts from these articles as a 13-part serial. We will include an embedded video in each of the serial postings of HGTV's Million Dollar Rooms, in which the project was featured.
©2009 WaterShapes. Reproduced by permission.
The process of building the indoor pool was complicated by the fact that, in addition to the shell for the pool itself, we were also setting up the adjacent spa and wading pool as well as the swim channel and the support for a clamshell detail of an as-yet-undetermined nature. It was, simply put, a complex forming process and shoot
Coming to Terms
As one example of just how creatively ambitious she could be, one of the bathrooms in the pool house is painted from floor to ceiling with a mural of a fox hunt: Every person in the painting is a family member,with the visual space separated between the living and the departed. This level of expression reaches throughout the project, as evidenced by another spectacular detail in the form of a ceiling painting above the indoor pool that features accurate renderings of constellations lit with fiberoptic stars.
But the pool house also was to have a utilitarian side, including a full kitchen, laundry facilities, vast amounts of custom woodwork, 18th-century stained-glass windows imported from England and an elevator. Suffice it to say, this was a client who observed no limits when it came to doing as she pleased.
At first, our scope of work was limited to an indoor swimming pool to be installed inside the pool house as well as a freeform outdoor pool. But that was just the beginning, and before long the project grew to include multiple watershapes and a long list of design details. Even for a firm that specialized in outsized projects, this soon became one of the most challenging we'd ever tackled: Truly, it pressed us to our creative and technical limits.
In addition to the two pools,we eventually were engaged to design and install an indoor spa, wading pool and fountain as well as an exterior wading pool and spa, an outdoor hot/cold therapy pool, a waterfall, a swim-in sauna and a sliding acrylic door that was to separate the indoor and outdoor pools – this last being by far the toughest single element of the project. The outdoor pool was to have a vanishing edge, extensive rockwork and various sculptural, lighting and fire features. The vanishing-edge basin alone became so large that it is essentially a watershape unto itself.
And those were just the key physical features: In addition to those large tasks,we also tackled a seemingly endless string of small details, from extraordinarily elaborate tile mosaics including a coral reef and "cave paintings"in the sauna to a massive, all-tile clamshell that cantilevers over one end of the indoor swimming pool.
All of this had to be engineered and built by a company familiar with complex structural issues, construction techniques and hydraulic efficiencies. And everything was made even more challenging by the fact that success was a moving target: The project went through numerous design iterations through the years, and those of us who stuck with the project for the duration (basically us and the general contractor) had to deal with a steadily changing cast of contractors and subcontractors.
Once we were done with the shell of the indoor pool and its associated waterfeatures, we stepped aside so the pool house could be built over and around what we'd done.
This long article was originally featured in a 2009 issue of Watershapes Magazine. They ran the lengthy treatise in two large parts: The first one outlined the planning and actual construction of this elaborate project, and the second took more of a photographic look at the finished product. We will feature excerpts from these articles as a multi-part serial. We will include an embedded video in each of the serial postings of HGTV's Million Dollar Rooms, in which the project was featured.
Even for a watershaper who previously specialized in the largest,most complex sorts of commercial installations, the challenges James Atlas ran into with this multi-faceted residential project stretched him to his operational limits. Designed for an intensely creative client on a property in suburban Chicago, the work took more than five years to complete and grew to include a wildly elaborate palette of design elements and details.
©2009 WaterShapes. Reproduced by permission.
It all started in 2002, when I was contacted by an architect who'd been retained to design a recreational complex for a huge estate in a wealthy Chicago suburb. I knew at the time that this would be big, but in those early days I had no clear idea exactly what it would ultimately entail. It's a familiar story: Before the call came in, the homeowner had spoken with a number of pool-contracting firms in the area and had visited a number of projects that failed to impress her. The unusual thing is, at the time she called I was focused exclusively on pursuing large-scale commercial projects and waterparks and didn't see anything even approaching a good fit. Nonetheless,she prevailed upon me to show her one ofmy waterpark projects and apparently was impressed enough by both the scale and the quality that she decided we were a great fit. In retrospect, her decision wasn't too surprising given how grand and complex everything about this project was from the get-go. Even the site visit was impressive, given the 140 acres of forested land, the multiple homes on site and a primary residence set back several hundred feet from the road. The grounds included miles of horse trails, a massive lake/waterfall complex and, under construction, a tri-level pool house that was to include, among other amenities, an elaborate theater complete with an orchestra pit. The client was thoroughly engaged in every detail and was a constant source of feedback and ideas. Well-traveled, bright, educated and more than capable of holding her own in designrelated conversations, she's passionate about art and culture and provided us with a rich source of inspiration in direct suggestions and in the objects she'd collected through the years.
Be sure to catch the next part of the series, which will outline some of the unique design challenges faced in the initial planning stages of this project and how the owner's ultra-creative input helped steer the process.
Each year brings new trends for home and garden design, including swimming pools and spas. In 2011, exciting design and technology options helped create beautiful pools that were integrated into lush landscapes for a more holistic experience.
Residential pools embraced amazing features that added beauty and intrigue, and in the past could only be found at resorts. In adding these features it made the backyard pool experience more like a vacation or spa – allowing pool owners to enjoy their pools new ways.
We see these trends extending into 2012. Of course, there will be some new developments along the way, and we can't wait to see them!
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(ARA) - The choice came down to two houses for Jack and Carrie Evans. Both were in the same lovely suburban Atlanta neighborhood where their children could actually walk to an excellent elementary school. The houses were similar in size and amenities.
"One," Jack said, "had a larger master bedroom and a slightly bigger kitchen." "And a sexier bathroom," Carol adds.
"But the other had a pool," Jack said. "We went with the pool."