Artificial rock as a design medium (article #7 of 10)

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    Matthew E Wilson

    Design theory (continued)

    There is nothing more mesmerizing than fire and water to stare at after a glass of wine at dusk. Our discussion is limited to the latter. Water movement is magic but only in the proper context. Water does not ever run from the top of any location except through snow melt. If you don’t live in snow country I would encourage you to limit the height of your waterfalls to something more believable that can be backed up with the addition of topsoil and plantings to justify the fall as coming from a higher location. Notice I did not say lower the overall height of the rock exhibit but rather the height of the waterfall itself.

    Once on a very, very expensive indoors zoological project the designers, not me at that time, had planned a twenty-five foot tall rock waterfall as a very dynamic attention grabbing feature to the exhibit. I can only picture the back slapping at what a great design idea this was when they conceived it. At the grand opening celebrations all of the media was there along with the mayor and exhibit donors. The waterfall came on and ran for almost twenty minutes before somebody higher up the food chain said to “shut it off, I cant hear myself think let alone talk to anybody”.

    The point of this story is to not allow others to jeopardize your common sense for design. This might be difficult given the frailty of designers egos but at least cover your position by making mention of the possible problem with correct documentation. A one to two foot tall waterfall is adequate in most residential applications despite many clients asking for a six foot tall waterfall “like I saw in Hawaii”. It won’t have the contrived look about it that a six foot tall waterfall sitting on top of the deck at the edge of a swimming pool would have. All water seeks the path of least resistance thus water flows between boulders and not always over the tops of them. Additionally the falling water noise and splash will be greatly minimized and help with the longevity of the feature.

    Truly natural rock outcroppings almost always tell a geologic story that is reasonably simple to understand. In order to tell a geologic story with your projects, create the same fracture planes and angles throughout your entire project site whether physically connected or not. This means for you to create similar angles on the silhouettes of all rocks on the site and in the same reasonable orientation. This creates a story to your work that virtually anyone can read regardless of age of geologic education. Additionally, make certain that the fractures are in the same reasonable degree of angle throughout the project. If project is not an easy geologic story to interpret then you need to put more thought into your design.

    It is a very important design tip to telegraph angles and shapes throughout your work. Be consistent so that when you are creating a three-dimensional shape it appears that way from all angles. I am always surprised at how difficult this simple concept is too many technicians. They start out on one side of a rock wall, that can be viewed from both sides, creating what appears to be four foot round separation fractures and just a few feet away they are working on the other side of the wall on the presumably the same rock that now is a two foot square rock, where’s the logic?

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    “Treat everyone the same, until you find out there an idiot”

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