For our third and final installment of the 2018 Leaders in Aquatic Design series, we had the special pleasure of speaking with two leaders in the field, Douglass Whiteaker, Principal, and President of Water Technology, Inc (WTI) and Jen Gerber, Senior Business Development Coordinator.
Whiteaker’s decades of work within the industry has provided WTI with an expert perspective on how aquatic facilities are moving into the future. When we asked how he found himself in the industry, Whiteaker replied, “I would say I started in the industry at 6 years old with my first competition,” explaining that his competitive swimming is what first introduced his father (an engineer) into aquatics and later influenced his own career path. Gerber’s work with WTI has focused on understanding the evolving scope of the aquatic industry through developing strong relationships with other aquatic leaders, as well as taking an active approach within industry organizations.
WTI handles nearly every aspect of creating water experiences for their clients including masterplanning, design and engineering, theming and branding, and construction administration. “We do a little bit of everything, in every state, in every province, and all around the world, which roughly equates to 150+ projects a year,” Gerber explained. Whiteaker expanded, “We handle the gauntlet of different types of aquatic facilities throughout the world. We do many of the destination waterparks both indoor and outdoors, and municipal aquatic facilities in North America and beyond. We design resorts and competitive facilities all around the world as well as membership-based facilities like country clubs, YMCA’s and wellness/fitness centers.”
With WTI’s expansive reach across aquatic markets, the firm prides itself in understanding the different needs of each user group across markets. “Our team is unique in that we focus on scalable innovations for our clients. Whether large waterpark or small municipality, innovations are finding creative solutions within schedules and budgets,” Gerber said, pointing to the rise of municipal waterparks, which have been influenced by larger resort parks.
So while needs differ between user groups, how WTI approaches each client remains universal. WTI’s design principles are based on the belief that good design considers user experience. In the Athletic Business article Trends in Aquatic Design Over the Past 40 Years Whiteaker notes, “Though the operation and construction costs have increased due to new methodologies and technology, ultimately these changes are driven by the higher level of expectations of the consumer, who desires a safe, healthy and entertaining experience for patrons," (x)
In our interview Whiteaker goes on to explain the term ‘water-tainment’, “It's about how we maximize pool participation through ensuring visitors have a great experience. In the municipal market, not only do we want to make sure we have the entertainment and recreation side dialed-in, but we also want to make sure that we have the ability accommodate aquatic programming opportunities for the facility. In all aquatic environments, but more specifically, membership-based and sports swimming facilities, pools have to provide a great experience for all abilities, which includes safety as well as social interaction. Watertainment is ultimately something different for each patron, age group, ability and interest and as designers, it is our job to deliver that experience to everyone.”
Gerber adds that the firm believes strongly in trying anything at least once, “We are constantly creating new designs that blow the last thing we did out of the water. Whether that is creative theming or making an immersive environment, to the entire park experience, we are always looking for ways that we can grow and innovate.”
This focus on innovation can be seen in projects like YAS Waterworld (x), a waterpark in Abu Dhabi UAE, where waterparks and resorts compete for the growing tourism market. WTI designed four one-of-a-kind rides throughout the park. National brands like Great Wolf Lodge, North America’s largest family of indoor waterpark resorts, continue to choose WTI for their immersive, themed environments and have completed seventeen facilities together, with multiple currently in development.
With WTI’s reach across markets, their eureka moments in design often happen when they take a trend in one market and apply it to another. “Lazy rivers initially became popular in waterparks and after seeing that trend, the aquatic industry responded to municipalities by providing an opportunity to participate in recreational venues.” Gerber explained. Whiteaker went on to describe how eureka moments also happen when clients want to reimagine aquatic features for programming, “Lazy Rivers started as a leisure activity, and later became an avenue for fitness programs - adults could walk with the current, exercising and socializing along the way.”
Gerber also believes many innovations stem from working within the client’s current space constraints and existing infrastructure. “Typically there is a sentimental attachment to the existing space, someone in the community loves an aspect of the facility and that’s why they choose not to start fresh,” Gerber said, “For example, there are many old L-shaped pools where people fell in love with the facility and cherish the memory of learning to swim. For that reason, Facility Directors are not going to destroy a nostalgic community space, instead they’re going to renovate it. The bottom line in these situations is being respectful of the relationships and the memories that exist in that facility while also providing a fresh vision for rejuvenation.”
Safety is also a significant planning stage in the design process with Whiteaker stating, “Part of achieving the owner’s goals and objectives means designing a space that is safe and efficient. For example in a recreational facility, one way to consider the safety of users means thinking about the layout. Placing zero depth entries near the entrance of the facility means that when kids are excited and run away from parents toward the water, they’re running into less than two feet of water as opposed to the deep end.” Whiteaker goes on to explain that safety also includes addressing the number of staff (and therefore staffing budget) a facility will need to properly oversee attractions and swimming areas. Facilities can add hundreds of thousands of dollars (even millions) over the course of the facility’s life if a design requires more life guards and staff to keep it safe.
Thank you WTI, Jen Gerber, and Douglass Whiteaker for spending time speaking with us and sharing 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.