This Little Piggy

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The final of three profiles of the members of Genesis 3 Design Group

Once upon a time, there were three arrogant pigs. They wanted to raise standards and quality in pool design and construction, so in 1998 they founded an international forum called Genesis 3.

All had extensive experience in various facets of watershapes (their preferred term for built water environments or features). The third pig, Brian Van Bower, was the group's knowledgeable public speaker, its savvy and polished charmer, its undisputed expert on fine food, wines and all things luxurious. The second pig, Skip Phillips, was the mechanical guru, the outspoken and uncompromised authority on hydraulics and vanishing-edge construction.

But oh, that first pig. David Tisherman β€” referred to by one publication as "the most in.uential pool designer and builder of his generation" and by another as "the Frank Lloyd Wright of the pool industry" β€” was and is the self-professed top guy in the sty.

"I'm on the other end of the scale," he says. "I'm the goofball, the artsy guy who tells it like it is. Ninety percent of Skip's and Brian's work is making up for and controlling my mouth."

It's all tied to Tisherman's passion for water as art, the unbridled joy in what he does and his insatiable craving for creating, learning, exploring, refining. He approaches each project as an empty canvas full of possibility, an opportunity to join with clients in a visual result that will not only complement but define their surroundings.

"Water is nothing more than an amorphous, odorless, colorless, highly reflective medium," says the founder of David Tisherman Visuals in Manhattan Beach, Calif., and Liquid Design in Cherry Hill, N.J. "Its surroundings should take priority.

"Isn't the environment, the whole aesthetic approach, what we're getting at. It's a total product of proportion, color, dimension, balance, brought together by any number of influences."

That may sound elitist to some, but to Tisherman it's basic. Like many artists, Pig No. 1 expresses himself in unique ways β€” such as his penchant for kicking mud at industry counterparts and standards he finds wanting.

"Too often in this industry it's not about quality," he says. "It's not about the European aspect of being proud of your work. It's about how much, how fast and let me get my money and run. You have people who design entire backyards who have no formal design training, no background in perspective, proportion, linear dimensions. And 95 percent of pools have no relationship aesthetically to the homes they're built with."

AN INSULT WELL TAKEN

Now, about this pig thing. It all started at an industry function when someone called Tisherman an arrogant pig. The artist in him liked the sound of it, and now all three Genesis 3 partners have embraced the concept to the extent that they collect various pig memorabilia and send it to one another.

When you're one of the world's leading authorities in water-shape design, you're bound to have more than a splash of confidence. And Tisherman knows of what he speaks: Each of his creations is a product of his expertise in the realms of art, architecture, culture, design, drafting, geology, history and sculpture. He has degrees in three-dimensional/industrial design and history, is a product of the Harvard Graduate School of Design and taught architectural rendering and presentation at UCLA for more than a decade.

With such depth of understanding in the medium, it's little wonder Tisherman has built some of the most eye-popping, structurally complex pools in the world. "What's most unique about David in the industry, is he has these ultra-unique design ideas and he also knows how to build them," says Kevin Fleming, Tisherman's partner in Cherry Hill. "Or, if he doesn't know how to build them, he has the resources to figure out how to build them the right way. It's one thing to draw or build something that looks good, but it has to function properly, too."

A master water-effects designer, Tisherman has created for top power brokers, including several Hollywood moguls. There was the 100-foot pool in which guests can swim into a cabana, accompanied by a separate 35-foot, all-tile lap pool and a vanishing-edge, self-contained spa. He threw in a moat and several ponds. But it's not just a matter of conceptualizing the unthinkable; it's also about doing it.

One Hollywood type wanted a pool created on land that was atop an artesian spring. Others had pronounced it unbuildable. So Tisherman came up with a pool that rests on 32 steel-and-concrete piles dug 40 feet into the ground. From above the main pool flowed 10 non-chlorinated pools with plants, frogs and occasional visiting waterfowl.

Water effects ranged from white water to sheet flow. And let's not forget the 15-ton rocks that were brought in to help complete that natural look.

"When it comes to attention to detail, David's work stands out," says Fleming. "The visual is driven by the amount of detail and the amount of unique, custom details that David designs. Less than 1 percent of the rest of the pool industry knows these details."

INFLUENTIAL INFLUENCES

Among his myriad creative influences, Tisherman says travel is the most important. It's invariably a driver in how he approaches projects and functional art, how he seeks in.uences from many sources in the art world and other cultures.

"I've been around the world a couple times," he says. "There are hundreds of spectacular architects from all over the world. And travel is crucial for learning about history. I'm going to Turkey in February with some associate members at Genesis 3.

"None of us can reinvent the wheel, but we can refine it by what we see and learn. There are pools that are 5,000 years old. But our industry doesn't feel that history is important."

"Travel is huge," agrees Fleming, who met Tisherman at an early Genesis 3 program several years ago. "When you're dealing with a clientele that wants a product that's this sophisticated, the trust comes quickly and then it becomes more of a friendship. They talk about great wines, travel, watches.

"And David has a knack for tying it all together. I remember his suggesting to one client, 'Why don't we tile the pool all in glass.' The client said, 'You can't do that. It freezes here.' David said, 'Ever been to Europe. There are fountains that have been there for thousands of years that are all tile.' Suddenly, anything's possible."

Tisherman urges Genesis 3 participants β€” and anyone else β€” to pursue knowledge the way he does. "Everybody in this industry has a nearby college with architectural classes, so how come these people don't go." he says. "How come they're satisfied with getting by with the minimum. There's books, the computer, libraries, television if someone wants to expand their horizons."

Michael Nantz recalls a particularly telling example of how Tisherman's quest for knowledge stands above that of most counterparts. "We were at an industry event in Arizona several years ago," says the owner of Elite Concepts by Michael Nantz and a regular at Genesis 3 forums. "David and I drove nearby to Taliesin West, a [school and workshop founded by] Frank Lloyd Wright? It's a National Historic Landmark.

"The next day, David challenged the other builders by asking them how many had bothered to visit Taliesin. Nobody had. One of them said, 'Why should I want to learn about Frank Lloyd Wright. He's dead.'"

As much as Tisherman appreciates and borrows from Wright's concepts, there is no such thing as a singular theme in his work β€” unless it's the passion to learn and create. And if he comes across as a know-it-all, it's a knowledge borne of a willingness to learn, explore β€” and listen.

"He's open to learning from other people, especially those he respects," Nantz says. "David will often dominate a conversation. But I've seen him become stone quiet around people he feels he can learn from."

A DIFFERENT VIEW

Given Tisherman's maverick ways, it's not surprising that he doesn't see Genesis 3 the way some portray it. Although the program is a forum for the exchange of ideas, he says Genesis 3 isn't teaching anything. Although some perceive it to entail high-end pool design and construction, he says it's not advanced at all. And though he's obviously a proponent of Genesis 3 and its usefulness to the industry, he insists he's not selling anything.

"We're not teaching," he says. "What we're doing is talking and sharing what we know and love. If people pick that up, that's all the better. It's about breaking the norm, growing, expanding. I beg people: Take an art history class, or get on a plane and go to Morocco and look at the relationship between plaster and gravel.

"This is not a high-end school. This is kindergarten. Some think soils and geology are high end. But that's basic.

"I don't believe in selling. I believe in beauty, learning, talking to clients and making them happy. What do they like. What will they use it for. What is their budget?

"I don't want to sell bells and whistles. I want to give them what they want. I want to give them the most beautiful aspect of their lives that I can. Remember, with watershapes, people look at them more than they're actually in them."

Tisherman doesn't buy the notion that the Genesis 3 program is a luxury. "The longstanding thought in our business has been that if education is free, it's great," he says.

"You pay for what you get in this world. If you get something for nothing, shouldn't a red light go on. But in the pool industry, they believe it. It should be all about quality, and quality of life."

Like him or not, Tisherman lives this. And despite a candor that may put people off and even complicate life for his Genesis 3 partners, he has a soft side. He's anything but piggish about his vast knowledge and relishes sharing with those who aspire to accomplish more. He has taught children with disabilities. And he has a deep appreciation for beauty. "I love to walk out and see absolute beauty," he says." I believe in the beauty of life, great wine, learning about things I don't understand. I have never been to work in my life. I just believe in what I'm doing so much that it's fun getting up every day. This is a love."

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