Diving Into Water Feature Design

Facility Executive spoke with Chris Roy, director of creative design at OTL, Inc., about considerations for water features inside and out of facilities.

In the built environment, water features can create a splash aesthetically and promote sustainability as well. With global experience, OTL, Inc., based in Anaheim, CA, is a design-build themed construction company that specializes in creating one-of-a-kind rockwork, water features, and themed environments for retail entertainment, hospitality, commercial, and gaming projects. Facility Executive spoke with Chris Roy, director of creative design at OTL, about considerations for water features inside and out of facilities.

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Water feature at Nu Skin headquarters building in Provo, UT. (Photo: OTL, Inc.)

Facility Executive asks… Please describe the types of water features for the commercial market. In addition to traditional fountains, what type of features are available to facility managers and building owners?

water features
Chris Roy
Director of Creative Design
OTL, Inc.

Roy: The types of water features built for the commercial market can basically be classified into two categories: architectural water features and natural (or naturalistic) water features.

Architectural water features take on a variety of forms including water walls, reflecting pools, interactive fountains, show fountains, and traditional fountains, as well as many other options, limited only by our imaginations.

Natural and naturalistic water features generally consist of streams, waterfalls, ponds, and lakes, or most often some combination thereof.

Many of these features are ideal for corporate, healthcare, educational, and commercial properties, and are desired by property owners and facility managers as a way to beautify an environment and attract tenants seeking to hire top talent.

For example, OTL is currently designing a fountain with monumental robotic jets, which will be installed on floating platforms in a retention pond at a mixed-use commercial office park in Iowa that includes several ground-floor restaurants. This signature water feature will serve as an icon for the property, bringing in customers to the food and beverage operators whom will benefit from increased length of stay by patrons enjoying the relaxing atmosphere, as well as creating an aesthetically pleasing view for property tenants.

Water features like this are all about engaging customers, visitors, and tenants alike. Today’s facility managers, owners and developers are increasingly leveraging interactive water features with cutting-edge technologies to create a sense of place that visitors want to return to again and again.

On the design side, what is a project OTL has delivered that’s been quite memorable? Why?

Roy: OTL is a world leader in water feature design and construction, with more than 150 projects throughout the globe to date. Two corporate projects we delivered that are especially design-forward are the water features we helped to create at Nu Skin Innovation Center (shown above) and Young Living’s corporate headquarters.

Working as partnership with landscape architect Gustafson Guthrie Nichol, water feature engineers CMS Collaborative, and project architect Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, OTL created several architectural fountains at Nu Skin’s headquarters campus in Provo, UT that are designed to align with the aesthetics of the company’s innovative product line.

The project includes a sleek solid-granite fountain in the center of the lobby featuring a number of captivating water effects that allow the fountain’s appearance to change throughout the day. In addition to the lobby fountain, we also built several outdoor water features, including serpentine white granite runnels that offer multiple seating options and a large-scale reflecting pool, which can be crossed on a series of stepping-stones. The reflecting pool also has a “hidden” feature: one of the pavers in the pool floor is a glass skylight, allowing shimmering light into office space below with unexpected, ever-changing patterns to play across the interior walls.

OTL was also called in to help create several water features for essential oils producer Young Living at the company’s corporate headquarters in Lehi, UT. Our team of artisans designed and constructed an artificial rockface cliff with a waterfall that flows into the building’s main atrium (shown below). The intricate warm-gray rockwork, inspired by natural stone pinnacles and spires around the world, exemplifies OTL’s concept of “Geo-Believability®,” through which we create rockwork and water features that appear as geologically accurate as possible.


In addition, under the direction of the project’s general contracting and construction management firm, Okland Construction, OTL also constructed two other water features on the Young Living project which were designed by Scholz Architects, the project’s landscape architect Arc Sitio Design, and engineered by a local Utah-based aquatics design firm. These fountains comprise a peaceful reflecting pool in the atrium in the shape of the company’s logo, surrounded by colorful landscaping, as well as an active fountain in front of the building that is programmed to deliver beautiful water and light shows, with the flexibility to change themes and mood to accommodate the company’s future needs.

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Fountains outside Young Living headquarters in Lehi, UT (Photo: OTL, Inc.)

Earlier, you described two types of water features — architectural, and natural and naturalistic. With these in mind, what site considerations would a facility manager take into account when thinking about what type of installation would work well on their property?

Roy: Several factors weigh into choosing the right water feature for a particular property.

Aesthetics are a major focus for property owners and developers. The fountain should integrate seamlessly into the site, and a good designer will examine the site’s floor plans, circulation, and viewing angles to recommend the specific water feature that will have the most positive impact.

Stakeholders should also consider size, context, and ambiance when making a selection. A landscaped site with plants and other natural elements would benefit most from features that appear to be naturally occurring, while a sleek, modern environment is more likely to benefit from an architectural element, perhaps with an artistic bent.

Acoustics are another point today’s facility managers and owners must consider when choosing a water feature. Fountains and waterfalls can be too loud for indoor spaces where people need to converse easily. While there are many options for water features which won’t aurally overpower a space, it’s important to discuss these items with an experienced water feature designer early in the design process to ensure the sound quality that is right for each specific property.

Operational considerations are another important factor in water feature selection. Whenever feasible, equipment rooms are preferred over vaults due to eased maintenance access and potential OSHA confined-space requirements. If an equipment room is simply not an option, underground vaults are generally the next best solution. In either case, the fountain equipment space should be constructed below the elevation of the fountain so that the pumps to have flooded suction, which eases operations, reduces energy requirements, and simplifies priming. Floor sump or floor-sink drainage and typical back-of-house elements such as concrete or tile floor finishes are other sensible components for equipment rooms.

Finally, facility managers and owners should carefully consider the differences between indoor and outdoor water features. Indoor fountains can introduce humidity into a space, often requiring chillers or other means to ensure the fountain is not emitting excess moisture. All fountains require a water supply, sewage connection, electrical service, and a maintenance plan which may need to be adjusted seasonally. OTL offers a variety of services that help owners and facility managers maintain both indoor and outdoor fountains all year round.

Water conservation is an important topic for many facility operators. For the design and operation of a water feature, are there system components or other elements that can be included to minimize water consumption?

Roy: Water conservation is important to us as well, which is why we take care to design and build fountains that use water efficiently in a number of ways.

Sustainability has become a key element in the design and construction of modern water features, and we can often utilize water from non-potable sources, including reclaimed water, captured HVAC condensate, and rainwater harvesting. Our fountains also recirculate water, so that the only water loss is to evaporation, which can be minimized with fountain jet selection and automated wind control.

Beyond water loss, there has been an uptick in demand for exterior fountains that use chemical-free, biological water sanitizing systems. These systems enable property owners and facility managers to reduce costs for chemicals and chemical handling and can also reduce or eliminate impact and sewage fees as they drain to storm instead of sanitary sewers.

Occupant health and safety is paramount to facility management professionals. Whether it’s the physical structure (broken/chipped materials) or waterborne threats (e.g., bacteria), what are one or two leading maintenance tips you’d offer?

Roy: The key to reducing structural and waterborne threats in water features is preventive maintenance — assuring that systems are operating in optimal condition.

Preventive maintenance includes regular water quality testing, keeping the fountain interior as well as skimmer and strainer baskets clean, performing electrical work in accordance with NEC codes, and checking automation components and control panels regularly to keep fountains running normally.

Facility managers should familiarize themselves with a water feature’s typical operating parameters and look out for anything out of the ordinary, such as surplus water consumption, leakage, valves that aren’t set at their normal operating position, gauges showing atypical pressure variations, or lights that aren’t working properly. Pumps can be checked quickly, simply by putting a hand on top of the motor housing to make sure they don’t feel excessively hot; if they do, checking amperage with an amp-clamp will confirm whether the motor is running within its nameplate rating. This step can bring problems to light before they become expensive to fix.

OTL provides managers and owners with a checklist to ensure that all parts and systems are correctly maintained. Facility managers should ensure their staff is trained thoroughly on everyday maintenance procedures that will protect stakeholders’ investment in their water features.

Today’s facility managers are increasingly seeking water features that deliver this depth of design coupled with streamlined functionality. By investing in and properly maintaining these features, managers and owners can deepen their tenants’ and visitors’ connection with their property and increase the inherent value of their commercial building or project.

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