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First in a three-part series on the members of Genesis 3 design group

It's heady stuff, this glitzy world of Brian Van Bower with his six- and seven-figure pool masterpieces, his invitations by private jet to consult with Fortune 500 types and Hollywood moguls, his casual discussion of water as art including an Eastern philosophy of pool placement, his extraordinary command of fine wine showcased in his humidity-controlled wine cellar featuring 600 labels.

Yet all this worldly sophistication partners with a simple concept: The bar is being raised in pool design and construction, and either you'll reach for it or you'll drift in the tide.

That's the premise advanced by the ultra-advanced Genesis 3, an international consortium that lifts watershape design, construction, hydraulics and expectations to enlightened plateaus. Founded six years ago by a superstar troika of Van Bower, David Tisherman and Skip Phillips, Genesis 3 has gained acclaim in the United States and abroad as a force in higher education for the industry. It has grown from a single school into a series of themed programs featuring experts in various design and construction fields from around the world.

"There's this minimum philosophy that's so prevalent in the industry, "says Van Bower, a 33-year pool veteran who is founder and president of Miami-based Aquatic Consultants and the president of Van Bower and Wiren pool construction in south Florida. "The mentality is to just do what you've gotta do. We want to take this to another level, a place of drop-dead gorgeous, a place where we don't scrimp on standards."

Van Bower, Genesis 3's president, chafes at a culture of mediocrity that he traces to self- or field-taught contractors with no formal, pool-specific education (and no desire to acquire any) who set their sights too low. He says this results in a lower expectation level that deprives the consumer.

"When people walk into their backyards with their guests and the opening comment is, 'Wow, what a tremendous pool,' the project has probably failed," he says. "But if they say, 'Wow, this all looks tremendous, it's a tremendous environment, it's unique, it makes a statement about you,' that's a success."

And Van Bower has delivered more statements than a credit-card company. When one client took a trip around the world and sent back pictures of his favorite artwork, Van Bower masterminded a 100-foot-long pool for the estate — with a shallow area featuring massive bronze statues and water effects that sprayed onto the statues in a semicircle.

But that takes second billing to the estate's almost-incomprehensible entryway: a 90-by-10-foot perimeter-overflow pool in black set with eight bronze statues. Three plumes of aerated water shoot up from the ground behind the statues, giving the illusion that art is floating on top of the pool.

His scores of awarded masterpieces set new boundaries for creativity with classic art influences, such as a mosaic pool floor made of Venetian glass tiles. Or features like a 15-foot-tall Mayan-like temple with water cascading down steps into a catch basin — which flows into an elevated black-granite spa featuring 25 therapy jets. A fire controlled by electronic ignition creates the illusion that it's floating on the surface of the basin.

Obviously, such treatments are for the super-rich. "But it's all part of raising awareness of water as art," Van Bower says. "When that's accomplished, more is possible at all levels of income, all across the spectrum."


In 1998, Van Bower, Tisherman and Phillips decided they wanted a higher level of education than they had seen at industry seminars. "We went to NPSI to ask them to do it," Van Bower says, "but they turned us down, saying there wouldn't be enough demand for it. So Skip told them that if they wouldn't do it, Genesis would.

"In hindsight, this was a good thing. It gave us the autonomy to act faster than if we'd had to go through committees, and within a few weeks we'd outlined our curriculum and targeted instructors we wanted to use."

Site selection for the first school was crucial. The three wanted to make a statement reflecting higher standards and luxury. "We chose the central coast of California," Van Bower says, "for its opulent location and because we wanted to give students a chance to tour two of the world's most beautiful pools, both at the Hearst castle. We wanted to show that even eons ago, there were timeless works that presented art in a pool setting."

The partners set up a site visit to a potential host hotel on the ocean, and within a few weeks had chartered a plane and brought on board some like-minded manufacturers. Within a month they had a contract and an ad running; by the fall of '98, Genesis 3 started its first school, at the Inn at Morro Bay, near San Luis Obispo.

"We promoted the school and lo and behold, it sold out," Van Bower says.

"We set it at 20 students at the time and made it all-inclusive, with a van picking people up and taking them to the airport, hotel, meals and a lifestyle program — also included — that featured wine tasting and fine food. We knew we were onto something big."


The red-carpet treatment remains a staple of the four-day program, held at various toney locales around the globe. Van Bower says many participants who have exacting standards also enjoy the finer things in life, and that the amenities contribute to an aura of elegance and camaraderie.

"In 1999, we rented a house in Las Vegas for a party that included our program alumni," he says. "It was a black-tie affair with strolling violinists, a caterer, fine wine, a bouncer at the door. Some people came in limos."

Even Genesis 3's meat and potatoes has a steak-and-lobster feel. The core, Level 1 program — which has attracted nearly 500 pool professionals from around the world including the Middle East, Europe and Canada — features subjects such as soils and structural data, hydraulic and edge details, use of different materials and the projects and philosophies of Genesis 3.

"Several hours a day are devoted to drawing and presentation," Van Bower says. "We provide all the materials for the class. Level 1 is functional but not all-encompassing. It gives everyone a taste of something that is more in-depth than what they're familiar with.

"Instead of just creating knowledge, it makes people more aware of all they don't know. I'm still learning that, too."


The Genesis 3 trio is united in its voracious appetite for knowledge, its design ingenuity and passion for water as art, yet each member brings distinct talents that all complement one another. "They've morphed so well," says Paul Benedetti, the owner of Aquatic Technology Pool & Spa in Morgan Hill, Calif., who has attended many Genesis 3 programs. "Skip's specialty is hydraulics and technical aspects. David's is structural design and architectural details. And Brian is such a wizard with aesthetics and finished materials."

Not to mention a wizard with people. While many elite designers keep business strictly nine-to-five, Van Bower makes it personal. He's part art consultant, part psychologist, part buddy. He'll dig far deeper than just a few questions about artistic preferences; he'll ask about what things in life make the client happy. He'll talk to their kids. He'll take clients out for a night on the town. He's as interested in soul analysis as soil analysis.

It's a natural extension of his communication skills. "That's one of the things I bring to the partnership," Van Bower says. "I'm a speaker and a listener. Plus, there's my understanding and appreciation of food and wine, which is part of what we do."

Van Bower did a radio show on food and wine for four years called "The Good Life" and has served on the National Board of the American Institute of Wine and Food. Not bad for a guy who started out in the pool business as a cabana boy, rubbing suntan lotion on tourists' backs at a hotel on Miami Beach.

"What stands out with Brian is his sense of the finer things in life," Benedetti says. "He and his wife, Gina, entertain clients; he wines and dines them; he gets personal with clients in a positive way. He knows all their nuances, just like an architect would. He knows what excites them and pushes their buttons."

Van Bower, Tisherman and Phillips all agree on the importance of influences such as architecture, design, drafting, sculpture, ancient history, geology and art in the total education process. In addition, all three work internationally and across the United States, and won't hesitate to call on associate members for input on a particular subject. This broad base of knowledge not only contributes to an infinite range of design possibilities, it emboldens them to take chances — and inspires others to do the same.

"The program gave me the courage to do things I've only dreamed about," Benedetti says. "It also gave me the courage to tell a client, 'This is the first time I've ever done this, and it may not work.' But having a one-of-a-kind appeals to clients more and more." Benedetti attended a Level 1 school in 1999 as well as the first Level 2 school — in Islamorada, Fla., in 2000. He has also attended Genesis 3 specialty schools on themes ranging from fountains to low-voltage landscape lighting to architectural rendering.

"When I went to my first Level 1 school, I felt like I was at home," he says. "I thought, finally, here are guys with the same no-compromise standards I have. For once, I'm not Don Quixote jousting at windmills."


Genesis 3 graduates are quick to dispel the notion that the program is but a luxury few can afford. The advantages extend far beyond the added knowledge and innovations in design and construction.

Adam Alstott, owner of Tropical Pools & Spas in Longwood, Fla., says the perks of networking with international experts have been invaluable. Though it's been five years since he attended a Genesis 3 program, he says he can still offer higher-end products and designs, in addition to having an entire list of industry connections he can turn to with questions.

Benedetti agrees: "At the very least, when a client mentions a new or sophisticated concept to a builder, it gives that builder the ability to turn to the client and say, 'I know how to do that' or 'I know who to call who does.' Remember, our clientele is getting more sophisticated, and we have to grow with them."

The program can also promote team-building. "My plumbing subcontractor paid his way to go through the Level 1 program," Benedetti says. "I just wanted him to see where I was coming from philosophically. He came back and said, 'I can't believe other builders are building pools the way they are.'

"When everyone is on the same page philosophically, it prevents miscommunication, builds unity and adds to a smoother experience for the professional and the client."

Benedetti says Genesis 3 also "raises the consciousness of the industry. Some states will toughen their requirements, and the marketplace will demand it, too. This can only add to better quality and value for all."

Genesis 3 has accumulated an impressive roster of sponsors that it feels are crucial to continued success and keeping program costs from becoming prohibitive.

"A number of people are acutely aware of a need for a higher level of education in the industry," says Van Bower. "Plus, the three of us have a tremendous amount of credibility" — as do program guests who include some of the most distinguished names in the pool and architectural arenas. Scheduled speakers at the Genesis 3 component of the Nov. 8-11 AQUA Show & Conference in Las Vegas will include James van Sweden, one of the world's most renowned landscape architects; author and landscape lighting expert Janet Lennox Moyer; and Anthony Archer-Wills, a top authority on ponds and water gardens.

"The goal is to keep challenging ourselves, to raise the bar," says Van Bower, a sophisticated entrepreneur who takes simple delight in seeing how high that bar may go.

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