Design in water features to promote sustainability

The upper pool at Rimba blends in with the landscape.
The upper pool at Rimba blends in with the landscape.

The upper pool at Rimba blends in with the landscape.

When creating a hotel’s outdoor landscaping—from trees to gardens to outdoor plants—an architect or designer has to take numerous factors into consideration. Aquatic Design & Engineering (ADE), a niche design firm specializing in show fountains and pools, recently completed work on the new Four Seasons Resort Dubai at Jumeirah Beach, an 11-acre waterfront property along the Arabian Gulf, which has two free-form pools and fountains to complement the beach.

ADE’s president, Josh Martin, said that the overall goal was to create different zones that catered to different needs, from zero-entry paths (“key” for a family pool) to “sunshelves” within the pools where guests could sit in shallow water. Both outdoor pools also have infinity edges that give guests the illusion that they are sitting in the ocean. “It creates continuity from place to place,” he explained. “That was a key design aesthetic.”

Beyond the pools, ADE created small fountains throughout the landscape. “Water is integral in Arab culture,” Martin said. “We used water features that tell a story.”

To accomplish the desired effects in both the pools and the fountains, ADE’s designers sought out materials that could handle heavy usage, rather than elements more suited to residential settings. “Plastic pumps can be fine for a backyard fountain, but not a hotel pool,” he explained. A variable-frequency drive, for example, lets the hotel adjust the pump’s motor as needed, using it only when necessary. 

In Bali, meanwhile, the Ayana Resort & Spa opened a second resort-within-a-resort, Rimba Jimbaran Bali, in late 2013. In contrast to the main beachfront resort, this property is set back from the coastline, requiring Dennis Selinger, principal landscape architect at St. Legere Design International, to bring the water to the property for its six pools and multiple ponds. “Guests enter the lobby and immediately see a reflecting pond with a horizon view of the ocean,” he said. “Starting from the lobby as the highest point, five terraced pools cascade into each other and even overhang each other.” To make this possible, Selinger and his team raised the lobby level by several meters, creating space for several levels of pools outdoors.

Using water sustainably

With increased awareness of sustainability, hotels are paying more attention to the efficient use of water in both landscape design and preservation. Selinger, of St. Legere Design International, said that Rimba’s irrigation system uses both treated water from the hotel’s reverse-osmosis system, and rainwater to minimize the use of freshwater. The resort also has two on-site water-recycling plants, and Selinger noted that by interconnecting the pools, fewer pumps were needed to bring water into each unit.

For the Four Seasons in Dubai, ADE’s Martin said that his team focused on sustainability, especially given the scarcity of fresh water in the desert environment. Using a regenerative media filtration system, the hotel operates on a month-long filter cycle and can save an estimated 95 percent of its water.

Water management company HydroPoint has installed its WeatherTRAK irrigation system at several hotels in the United States, including the Moana Surfrider and the Westin Maui in Hawaii and the Westin Kierland and the Phoenician in Arizona. “Hotels know the value of having a gorgeous landscape,” HydroPoint CEO and Founder Chris Spain said. “They are also great environmental stewards, because they know if there’s [wasted water], they’ll take a lot of heat.” The dual goal of landscape aesthetics and resource management has pushed managers to technology, he added. “Water can go where you don’t want it to, and it’s a very powerful force.” While underwatering can hurt the plant life, overwatering can lead to runoff that can cause slips and falls at best and foundation damage at worst. “If you can control your outdoor water in an intelligent fashion, and you cycle your water so [you] don’t use more than the soil can absorb, you can eliminate that runoff.”

The system, Spain continued, provides management options like analyzing the benefits of using different sprinkler heads, adding native plant types or ensuring a property’s irrigation schedules are in compliance with local water agency regulations. “You can’t make intelligent decisions and changes unless you have the data,” Spain said.

The Phoenician in Scottsdale, Ariz., reportedly saved $2 million in water charges by using a high-tech management system.

The Phoenician in Scottsdale, Ariz., reportedly saved $2 million in water charges by using a high-tech management system.

HydroPoint is a 'smart irrigation' company that has worked with several Starwood hotels.

HydroPoint is a "smart irrigation" company that has worked with several Starwood hotels.

System to keep water costs and usage down

WeatherTRAK, an irrigation system made by HydroPoint, can lower hotel water costs, according to CEO and Founder Chris Spain. Several Starwood properties that have implemented it have saved the hotel brand $2.1 million in direct water costs and 301 million gallons of water, he said. According to HydroPoint, the Phoenician in Arizona saved over $2 million on its water charges and more than 400,000 centum cubic feet of water.

WeatherTRAK, Spain continued, assigns a serial number to each water controller to take weather and usage data into account when determining how much water an area needs. On-site managers can even enter calendar events to adjust for optimal watering times (if the water department offers lower rates at certain hours, for example). If the situation changes, the grounds crew can turn the system off remotely with smartphones.

At the Four Seasons Resort Dubai at Jumeirah Beach, Aquatic Design & Engineering President Josh Martin said, his niche design firm specializing in show fountains and pools used a single type of motor for powering both the fountains and the pools (reducing the amount of extra equipment needed) and chose items with long life cycles. Similarly, the automated building-management system can send notifications via email to as many as seven people on-site for immediate repair, fixing pieces before breakdowns cause significant damage.