Leaders in Aquatic Design: Aquatic Design & Engineering

Windsor Hills, Kissimee FL

Windsor Hills, Kissimee FL

Last year, as part of our architect and designer series, we sat down with three major firms in the aquatic design industry. Josh Martin, the President and Creative Director of Aquatic Design & Engineering (ADE), was kind enough to share his perspective in the first installment of this year’s series.

Josh Martin started at Aquatic Design & Engineering in 2008. As President, Martin describes his job this way: “I’m responsible for the direction of the company, operations, and leadership. Making sure we’re taking on the right staff members, projects and vision for the company." As the Creative Director, he leads the Studio Splash design studio. In that role, he oversees anywhere from 10-20 projects per month with his creative team.

Aquatic Design and Engineering, founded in 1987, is all about creating “Engaging Water.” Their focus on detailed engineering and client-driven design shows in their 2,200 projects worldwide. Examples include Morgan’s Inspiration Island at Morgan’s Wonderland,  “the world’s first ultra-accessible splash park,” or the accessible zero-depth pool and interactive water features for the Give Kids The World Village.

Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines chose ADE to create thrilling slides that were, according to Martin, “a part of the ship's design, to really blend it with the style of the ship." (x)

As a Leader in Aquatic Design, how does ADE approach creating, retrofitting, and expanding aquatic areas for their clients?

“We really try to design from the guest experience,” Martin says. He points out that this isn’t always easy: sometimes the guest is a five-year-old child. “I do have a three-year-old, which helps. Our staff have a lot of children, so we try to think about how the targeted user is going to play.”

We asked Martin for an example of ADE’s design principles in action. Windsor Hills, an HOA in Kissimmee Florida with plenty of rental properties for vacations, wanted to stay competitive with neighboring properties by adding a water park feature. The HOA had already started this process with a landscape architect and pool contractor that weren't delivering what they wanted.

Enter ADE: “I developed a relationship with Windsor. We created a package that would make them a differentiator in the market and be a WOW factor for people on vacation. The owners are really looking for ‘wow’ photos.”

The Eureka moment was putting together a package that would be a resounding yes for the owners and the renters - two 25-foot slides, a play structure with slides, dumping wheel, and safety floor. It’s a very successful project. Our team got to go out there for a soft opening... watching our kids play on something we designed was very enlightening.

In this design, you can see some of Martin’s leading design principles: safety and uniqueness, especially Martin’s renown refusal to design any area with standing water, and his aversion to pass-through systems. “We try to avoid doing any type of standing water in children’s play areas. We believe that poses a drowning risk. Especially if kids are knocking down younger kids, the younger kid could end up face down in three inches of water which is unsafe. So the “safe parent approach” is one we take to provide the opportunity for safe play.”

Secondarily, we really want to make each space unique. We look at everything from the color, to the floor pattern, to the equipment so that the neighboring entities don’t have the same layout. We’re very much a custom design shop with the desire to create one-of-a-kind layouts.

With renovations and retrofitting, the challenge is to create something new and interesting without straying from the client’s original vision.  “We look at what worked previously, and ask, how do we take that space and reimagine it completely? We want designs that make you say, ‘Wow, I have the latest and greatest installation, but somehow it feels like it has always been here.’”

Consumers and how people interact in pools is different by region. In Europe, they love lap swimming. In Florida, we don’t think about lap swimming because most Americans like to sit or float in water or be at the edge of a pool. So how can we create more edges and more spaces for people to be in the water? When we approach a renovation, we think about how a demographic is going to use that pool/area.

Where does Martin see the industry heading in the next few years? He doesn’t think any one place in the world is the example of what the Aquatic Industry will become, nor does he limit his inspiration solely to what other aquatic features are coming to market. “I think the way that Australia and New Zealand look at playgrounds is inspirational.  I think we could use those ideas in America for water play. I look at a lot of modern architecture and ask, how can we apply that to water? New people and new countries building these kinds of spaces think about these puzzles in a different way.”

In America, pools are built out of concrete and have been for decades. Other countries don’t have that established standard. “We designed a 15,500 sq ft swimming pool in Belize out of stainless steel wall panels. The benefits were that it went in 100 days quicker, it saved the owner money, and it had a longer warranty.”

In safety and engineering, Martin takes his role as a leader in the aquatic industry seriously. If projects start with designers, he believes that designers should be the ones stepping forward and creating change, especially when it comes to safety and hygiene issues. Martin is especially averse to pass-through water systems. “Pass-through systems are of the devil. I don’t know how other firms are, but I hope the other firms as industry leaders feel that they should be setting the standards - we shouldn’t have to have manufacturers come to us to tell us safety standards, we should be demanding safety standards as the designers. “

Where does safety fit in this for ADE? Martin thinks that conversation happens right at the start, leading with safety and building up, “We’ve flipped the script. We don’t start with nozzles or features or square feet. We start with budget and then we show you less than that and more than that. If you can’t build it safely and functionally, then you shouldn’t build it. At the end of the day, we want clean water, a safe place for kids to go and we need to come up with basic rules and operations of that. All designs should be practical and functional before anything else.”

Thank you Aquatic Design and Engineering, and Josh Martin, for spending time speaking with us about your design expertise and perspective!

Life Floor intends to highlight industry leaders through this blog series. In doing so, for the sake of accuracy, we may include quotes and opinions that are not shared by Life Floor itself. However, all quotes that appear are included because we believe they are valuable for consideration by both ourselves and for the aquatic industry as a whole.