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The Soul of a Resort by Kimberly Merick, EDSA For resort guests, pools are pleasure, fantasy, fun and art. They provide the most memorable images and memories of a vacation in a tropical climate, and, as such, they are essential to a successful guest experience. During the day, pool areas are the focus of activity. Kids and the adventuresome are entertained with waterfalls, fountains, slides, river pools, zero-entry pools and the opportunity to meet friends. Parents and adults can rejuvenate in low-impact exercise classes, retreat to quiet grottos of palm trees, swim up to the bar or lounge in a grove of coconuts next to a quiet fountain. In the evening, pools become artistic water features - lit from within and displaying the design soul of the resort. They provide a memorable backdrop for dining, special events and group activities. Even though a resort may be along a beach, more and more, people prefer to be by or in the pool. Pool and pool area design is changing as quickly as designers can find new ways to make their client's vision a reality. New designs give more competitive life to a resort, and good designs always reflect on the bottom line. Investment in new pools is often justified by an increase in occupancy, especially during the "shoulder seasons," when visitation slows down. Advertisements for resorts often focus on their pools as the "banner" to attract guests. For landscape architects, resort pool area design is one of the most creative challenges in the profession. It alternately involves site planning, landscape design, and fine art selection against the discipline of budgets. It is a multidisciplinary act, involving teamwork with architects, engineers, sculptors, hotel operations, specialists in water treatment mechanics and contractors. The technology of design is also changing quickly. Artificial stone, rock and water courses and architectural elements interface with water and offer an unlimited choice of themes and new environments. Design for Entertainment "Tourism is entertainment," explained Edward D. Stone, Jr., founder of EDSA. "When guests leave their rooms, they want fantasy, but we believe with the flavor of the host culture and environment. We try to target our designs on the natural features, culture and even the mythology of the locality, but also add stages for different activities, from exercise classes to weddings." At the heart of this approach, to design is to entertain, and this happens at many different levels. It is a continuum between function and art, with an infinite number of variations and the need to satisfy many different audiences. Children want fantasy and room to move - adults want seclusion and class. Couples want romance - singles want action. In the end, designs for different stages and environments must be targeted at specific markets, but must also please a range of tastes. Designs must be unique, provide the guest with a series of discoveries and must be different from anything they have seen before. For a successful resort, it also must be entertaining enough for the people to keep coming back. Atlantis - Mixing Legend with Underwater Fantasy Competing in an international market against the fantasy of Orlando, the extravagance of Las Vegas and the intrigue of the Caribbean, the creation of salt water aquaria and fresh water swimming environments, has set a new standard for major resort offerings. There are 11 different swimming areas at Atlantis, which collectively hold three million gallons of constantly circulating water. The pools alternatively recreate the natural environment of the Bahamas, the dramatic backdrop of "The Lost City of Atlantis," fun rides down tropical rivers, stimulating plunges down water slides from an Atlantian ziggurat, and the opportunity to swim next to the flora of the surrounding oceans. Intertwined with the freshwater pools are marine habitats holding more than eight million gallons of water, constantly recirculating from the Caribbean. There are over 100,000 fish and 129 species, ranging from predators (sharks) to colorful tropical reef-dwellers. The reefs, exposed bedrock, foundations and structures of Atlantian buildings, the Atlantian ziggurat, saltwater flora and above water plantings are the result of a collaboration of designers and technicians. A coconut nursery was bought in Jamaica. More than a dozen major works of sculpture were commissioned from artists in the U.S., Mexico and South America. "To design and build a project as complex as Atlantis, required constant and close interaction with Sol Kerzner (the owner), his staff and the design team," said Bob Behling, the principal in charge of the project at EDSA. "We stationed two people on site during the construction of both phases. The first phase was designed and built in 13 months." Hyatt Regency Aruba - Recreating History in the Garden The site of the Hyatt Regency Aruba was barren except for a dozen coconut palms, all of which were in bad shape. The site was divided by a road, creating additional challenges to the property. EDSA's John Miller noted, "Our mission was to create something unique for the island as well as something entertaining to the guests. In the design of resort pools, the line between recreation and entertainment is blurred. We looked at this project as if it was entertainment, not just recreation, and wrote a 'storyline' for the development of the amenity area." The solution was to create a sense of place that may relate to the Aruban culture, history, or geography. A variety of experiences was created for the guest which adds a sense of adventure to their stay. Miller took a cue off the existing gold smelting ruins on the windward side of the island. The ruins were constructed out of huge stone blocks native to the island. He created a "storyline" for the amenity area, which provided some adventure in the passage from the lobby to the beach, and served as a transition between grades. The storyline was as follows: An old stone homestead existed on site, which had been abandoned many, many years ago. Only the ruins are left of the foundation, and partial walls, which are not taken over by an errant Artesian well which flooded the ruins and created many waterfalls through windowsills, doorsills, etc. The Homestead site was originally chosen because it contained the only Artesian sweet water well on the Island of Aruba, and was an oasis in a dry climate. The ruins add sense of place. They were constructed out of modern materials - concrete block and stone-face plaster. A large, artificial lagoon and a small stream adds interest to walkways and provides the cooling effect of water, so necessary in the extreme climate of Aruba. A canopy of coconut fronds throughout the amenity area provides shade from the tropical sun. The split-level swimming pool is integrated with man-made ruins, as is the swim-up bar. These help continue the theme all the way to the beach. EDSA designed the rockscape (which was built by Rock and Waterscape Systems, Inc.), as well as the pool (using Howard Fields as the engineer). Creating a strong-sense of environment, the resort has become home to a burgeoning family of iguanas that thrive on the plant material, as well as koi, tilapia, parrots, and swans. Egrets and other native fowl visit the project's lagoon quite frequently. El Conquistador - Tropical Sculpture The main pool at the El Conquistador is 300 feet above the Caribbean and is over 400 feet long. The views are spectacular and the combination of architecture, landscape architecture and sculpture more than compensates for the lack of a beach close by. With 1,000 rooms divided into five villages, the main pool is the centerpiece of the reception area, restaurants, conference areas and the largest cluster of rooms. The pool has classical elements, and it is intertwined with areas for sunning, dining and for special events. At night, the water, the classical elements and the sculpture are lit as a design feature and a backdrop for social activities and viewing. Pools in other areas, such as Las Casitas, are more informal and intimate. The design intent is to provide different environments for guests that will keep them intrigued while they are there, and get them to return to stay in the other villages. Lower level pools at midslope and the Marina Village are accessed by a furnicula. Westin Casuarina Resort - A Classic Diversion Centuries ago, the Moors designed fountains that delighted the senses of sight and sound with the movement of water. Using Moorish runnels combined with natural stones to feed fresh water into the pool of the Westin Casuarina on Grand Cayman, doubles as a fountain and a playful water feature. Rather than a biomorphic design, the pool is classically symmetric in shape, which is part of a trend away from free-form pools in upscale resorts. Date Palms - which have a similar character - surround the pool along with shell-themed iconographic planters. The Westin Casuarina pool is in a confined space, and did not have an elaborate budget, but it is timeless and effective. Raising the Stakes Through Renovation When is it time for a fresh look at the pool amenity area? It depends on the market area, but the most successful resorts are adding design features to keep guests returning every year. Substantial upgrades happen every three to five years, and complete renovations every 12 to 15 years. The second phase of Atlantis began less than three years after the first phase was complete. In a highly competitive environment, the Condado Plaza Hotel and Casino has brought three pool renovations in 10 years. The most realistic hoteliers do not rely on the industry average of 3% reserve for replacement and long-term owners count on reinvesting as much as 15%. Basics of room design, food and beverage outlets and common areas are the most capital investment, but pools, as the "soul of the resort," are also priorities. The better the design, the longer the pool area will retain its vitality for guests, and generate long-lived value in the resort. lasn

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June 18, 2019, 8:58 pm PDT

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