The way Mike Crnkovic sees it, a pool on its own has very shallow potential. "At its core, you've got a swimming pool. And as beautiful as it can be, it's nothing more than a body of water," says Crnkovic, a director of business development for Crystal Fountains, a Canadian company with offices in Dubai. But a dramatic water feature provides a wellspring of artistic possibilities, morphing a pool, hot tub or spa into an engaging form of entertainment. Crystal Fountains is working on numerous Middle East developments, including works along the Corniche in Abu Dhabi and designing 20 waterscapes at The Tower Park at Burj Dubai.
The company provides a range of showstopping products for residences, including LED-lit, computer-controlled jets. "It can be very exciting for a homeowner to have people over: they're looking at a static body of water and they press a button and all of a sudden they've got this water feature and a light show." Water features have for centuries been an element of gardens in the Arab world. But now, specialist companies are breaking new ground. "We are seeing a huge surge in the desire for water features in private residences in the Middle East," says Amelia Manning, a spokeswoman for Aqua Design Group, a New York business with offices in Dubai, Florida, Canada and Russia. People are striving for new and creative ways to showcase their affluence and sense of style and a water feature is a great way to do that."
There is also a psychological element at play. Manning says an outdoor water feature is an oasis: the sound is soothing and the sight contrasts with the desert climate. "Psychologically, it creates a feeling of peaceful tranquillity and a sense of influence over the harsh landscape." According to Manning, water walls and dynamic fountains are topping homeowner's wish lists. Pamela Smith, of Neville Crocker fountains in Australia (whose waterworks are featured at the SRB building at NADIA, Abu Dhabi), says children get a great kick out of the playful element that a sequence of lit, arcing jets can provide. "Children can stand under these jets while in the pool. These can be randomly sequenced so the children can try to guess which will be the next jet to arc," she says. Fog is another favourite. Children see it as a hiding place, but on a more practical note, it lowers the ambient temperature by up to 10 degrees.
The imaginative touches do not stop there: Neville Crocker's magnum opus just might be a "water piano", featuring 76 jets. "As the child puts a finger over a jet and stops its flow, a corresponding piano note will be heard through a speaker," says Smith. A more muted choice might be a glasslike rod of water soundlessly and continuously piercing the surface of your pool. Crystal Fountains' lamina jet does just that - and appears to defy physics. New for this year is a fountain called the Leaper Lamina. "It can be choreographed," says Crnkovic. "It actually cuts off a piece of water and it jumps like a fish."
The possible variations are many. And as for customising the hue, the palette of some 16 million tones should keep you busy for a while. "We've had people that pick them to match their favourite soccer team's jerseys," says Crnkovic. The sky is the limit when it comes to kitting out your backyard water features: Crnkovic says private homeowners have dropped up to Dh46,000 (US$12,000) in the past. But a few stream jets would ring in at about Dh3,600.
Crnkovic says the Middle East is a fertile market for fountains, not just because of the climate, but because of the mindset of the people who live here. "They are people who have real imaginations. They look at possibilities."