Pond Design

A friend recently asked for my input on building a pond at his mod little house in Lancaster. Now in the second winter on our pond, I have some time to philosophize about the process of designing and building a pond.

I like to think of a pond as a model of nature…

Although generally considered a hobby, model-making is also a skilled craft requiring study and practice to master. As with any craft, there are numerous principles, rules of thumb, and tricks of the trade one learns to become proficient at modeling. While I only dabble in model-making, I have learned that some of the principles and techniques of the model maker can be used to one’s advantage in designing and building a successful, aesthetically satisfying pond.

For example, in model railroading there is the principle of selective compression, which refers to the process of selectively ignoring uninteresting or redundant features found in a model’s subject as a means of reducing spatial requirements and at the same time emphasizing the most interesting features in the model . In nature, the features we perceive are often, though not always, quite large in scale. However, on closer inspection, these natural features are composed of certain recognizable details that are repeated, or that are bound together by larger, more simple figures/shapes. By carefully modeling small concentrations of details, we are free to compress larger shapes and distances into much less space, while still finding them pleasing, or ‘convincing’.

Thinking of a pond as a model of nature does not preclude the possibility of deep integration with architecture or architectural hardscaping. On the contrary, it creates an opportunity to bring architecture closer to the natural world, and invite natural features and irregular beauty into the built environent.

When designing a pond…

  • Consider all views
  • Relate to the surroundings, whether architectural, terrain, natural materials, hardscaping, or landscaping
  • Pay attention to available light throughout the day, cast shadows, reflections
  • Be aware of the projection of sound, from both waterfalls and pumps.
  • Combine activity with quietude. Fast moving water/still water. Breezy plants/solid objects or background shapes.
  • Look at the background
  • Remember that even slight changes in elevation add interest
  • Depth is as important as width. That doesn’t mean the pond has to be deep, just that water depth is part of the whole composition
  • Remember that there’s a landscape beneath the water, too. Unless you have really bad water, you will see it

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