mylandscapes contemporary garden design & build

designing perfect water features

contemporary water feature design

blog / design elements

design & words Amir Schlezingeramir schlezinger

Seduced by Water

Designing a perfectly balanced water feature forms a complex task, yet exciting all the same. There's always an element of the unknown, right until the moment when a new feature is switched on, following weeks of inspired planning, detailing and building, to see and sense a free-flowing display for the first time. A water feature rarely presents its maiden glory flawlessly; its intricate mechanisms and substance forever alluring, yet enigmatic – transcending nature's innate, fluid powers amid human romanticism, to define our urban waterscape.

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Spirituality and sentiment aside, the premium materials, bespoke installation and committed maintenance outgoings which sustain a long-term aqueous endeavour invariably form paramount factors to contemplate at the outset. Still, the contextual magnitude, organic connection and visual significance of man-made landscapes across diverse scopes derive their broader, sparklier and certainly dreamier qualities through innovative designs of flawless water features.

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1. flow 2. gear 3. sound 4. setting 5. lighting 6. circuitry 7. planting 8. structure 9. materials 10. upkeep

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1 flow

modern courtyard

There's nothing more pleasurable than a vigorously flowing water feature, produced with competent engineering and accurate pump specification. First, we appraise a suitable ambience for both site and client, followed by an outline concept and a meticulous detail design. While private residences often contain small-scale waterfalls, across civic scope, aquatic adventures invariably take grander frameworks. Conceived by the American landscape architect Lawrence Halprin, the Keller Fountain Park, an urban regeneration icon of 70's Oregon, forms a colossal, yet highly immersive water structure. The project designer, Angela Danadjieva, famously described great trepidation regarding the jets' flow, and therefore Keller fountain was initially switched on at night to minimise possible daylight embarrassment!

2 gear

There's a gamut of multiple construction details to consider when developing water feature design ideas into precise site engineering. Would the feature require a solid backdrop; is the lower reservoir to be flush with the garden's level or elevated; or is the site accessible to oversized components? Every bespoke water feature is best fitted with an integral UV filter, and we achieve greater efficiency while this apparatus is situated externally, preferably below ground. Hard water repeatedly tarnishes surrounding surfaces, and whenever installing a water softening system is unfeasible, citric acid granules, applied periodically, neutralises recurring Calcium carbonate residues.

3 sound

urban courtyard

A slight water trickle is at times ample to inspire serenity in an urban garden, when lush tropical garden nuances fuse a familiar ambience. Equally, white noise is effective in masking hectic traffic sounds, infusing natural context into a contemporary outdoor space, where its resonance is amplified by the height distance from which water cascades, the width of the aperture, pump's strength and pool's depth. Integrating a dual element into a cohesive design produces an eye-catching water feature when idle, and evermore fascinating while flowing and fully lit. Often, we include small fountains, juxtaposed alongside larger streams, to extend ripple nuances, and enhance lighting ambience across multifunctional water surfaces.

4 setting

stone garden

Establishing an optimal setting for a water feature forms a pivotal factor in its design. While furniture, light fittings and plants can be repositioned, a water feature remains fixed. We often position water structures inconspicuously, where a feature is revealed progressively within a connective setting, since integrating its outline into a fluid landscape design sustains a cohesive layout. Adequate daylight is vital to maintain clear water, and by utilising suitable foliage, we minimise excess leaves, reduce upkeep and enhance clarity, where nature is gracefully reflected in an invigorating garden setting.

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5 lighting

minimalist garden

Water is intrinsically conducive to illumination, where light refraction generates unexpected nuances. Projecting a spotlight through flowing or still water produces superb night-time theatricality, when striking silhouettes expand amongst structural elevations – augmenting subtle movement, intimacy and mood within an outdoor space. Similarly to specifying a suitable water feature pump, it's vital to utilise precise lamp beam widths to provide an effective glow, tailored to the size of a specific water feature. As with all skilful garden lighting techniques, concealing the underwater fitting enhances visible illumination rather than redundantly highlighting the conspicuousness of its source.

6 circuitry

A beautifully engineered water feature is augmented by including several circuits for diverse settings, and we prefer to zone various pumps, enabling distinct individual cascades. Outdoor lighting ought to be subdivided from water circuitry; only switched on at night-time, while certain fittings are allocated to specific pumps, with UV filters situated separately to facilitate pausing at any time. This methodical process optimises usability and flexibility, producing energising water features with perfect clarity as focal points in bespoke gardens.

7 planting

Man-made bodies of water often exist in seclusion, such as pools and lakes, reflecting peacefully within a natural landscape, yet, tree silhouettes, cloudscapes and terra firma revitalise water's essence perpetually. Similarly, in a small city garden, water features require integration into surrounding planting schemes to fully sustain their purpose, since every natural watercourse symbolises a voyage with a source, path and destination. Likewise, Foliage and water's subtle interplay within London urban roof terraces along River Thames continually enhances the context of modern city outdoor spaces.

8 structure

small garden

A waterfall's structure is undoubtedly more effective when synced into its surroundings, in both scale and materials. While placing is intrinsic to a site, construction forms an inherent part of the design process. Is the water feature to be merged with other elements of the garden, or will the waterfall define a self-contained, complete feature by itself? Linear garden designs are frequently balanced with sinuous, organic water, while monochrome features are often accentuated by vibrant foliage palettes. Small city gardens are spatially extended through the multidimensional, magnified scale of water reflections, where vertical, space-saving waterfalls free up precious horizontal outdoor space across their hard landscaping spectrum.

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9 materials

courtyard patio

We integrate natural stone, concrete and render into the fabric of water features throughout our urban gardens. Steel, tiles and glass often provide intermediate surfaces for water to glide across, through or above. The textural qualities of background materials are pivotal in enhancing cascading water, elevating their surrounding soft landscape within a balanced continuum. Fine-tuning the water flow according to use produces a gamut of reflections, sounds and movements, defining dynamic ambiences in contemporary London family gardens.

10 upkeep

Self circulating water features are relatively easy to manage, in contrast to large, built-in waterfalls which entail profound insight of their mechanics to optimally maximise fluid potential. Accumulation of leaves occasionally clogs conduits, pumps and UV filters, requiring regular clearing to retain smooth running effectiveness. Citric acid is beneficial in reducing Calcium carbonate build-up on surfaces, steel pipes and pumps. Winter protection is practical in cold weather, when it's best to release water from reservoirs to minimise freeze damage.

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– coda –

A Connection with Nature

Water's essence, across divergent landscapes, evokes a myriad of innate perceptions, encompassing a diverse spectrum which contrasts serenity with perplexity. Yet, the love and appreciation of sculptural, man-made expressions of water are universal, and to transform these subliminal contexts successfully into modern garden design projects achieves architectural focus and a playful connection with nature. This wide-ranging ethos forms a pivotal building block in our urban environment, where sought-after peacefulness and a wildlife revival increasingly redefine the narrative of contemporary outdoor spaces.