I would like man and nature to confront each other, and to have a tension maintained with regard to each other. I want to create a place where that will occur.
~ Tadao Ando

Mills Studio Statement

Water has both a physical and symbolic presence for Architecture and Landscape Design to utilize. Water’s literal physical power is equaled only by its symbolic power. The most common physical usage of water elements in residential architecture is for swimming pools and spas, and this functional usage usually contributes greatly to its users’ physical well-being. Additionally, water’s psychological and symbolic qualities can also contribute to our well-being. Like the other essential elements of life and architecture, such as earth, air, and fire, water is literally the substance of life. And like these other elements, water contains within its essence  apparently self-contradictory attributes. Water is associated with originating and rejuvenating life while it is also associated with drowning and eroding life. Water can both slow-down creating moments of repose in stillness, and speed-up in movements of energy release. Water can read both as surface and volume.

Thus, depending upon its context, water has the ability to materialize both purity and turbulence, and tranquility and forbidding. Water can represent both fluidity and cohesiveness or change and the passage of time which are the enemies of fluidity and cohesiveness. Water has great physical and symbolic presence bound up with world religions, such as Christianity and Islam. Islam and its architecture uses water for the purposes of ablution and uses water as an element of gardens intended for spiritual, poetic, and contemplative purposes. For Christians water signifies the purification of the soul through Baptism and Christ’s walking on water signifies a transcendence of the earthly condition. Water can be an integral part of both these serious religious purposes and an integral part of play and enjoyment.

One aspect of mills studio’s architectural agenda is to use single elements to fulfil multiple intentions. Like individuals, architectural elements that properly integrate best reach their potential. Thus, the opportunity is to integrate water into the architecture and landscape using the physical, psychological, and symbolic qualities of water to reinforce the architectural intent. Integration requires the combination of pragmatic, technical, scientific, aesthetic and poetic concerns. Among a myriad of concerns, water elements must fulfill the pragmatic aspects required for swimming, the technical requirements of building codes and plumbing, the scientific aspects of filtration evaporation, the aesthetics of design and material choices and the poetics of interaction with the water.

Water features can evoke a range of feelings when we intentionally account for all of the senses and when we intentionally exclude certain senses. The sound or silence of water; the sight and visual color of water or the lack of visual connection while we hear the sound of water; the feeling of water to the touch; and even the scent and taste with water all significantly affect our reactions and interactions with water. Water has no real boundaries and is always working at simultaneously on multiple scales, so water management is a way to express local, regional, and global concerns. Water originates in nature but becomes man made when we capture and restrain water for man’s purposes, both practical and poetic.    

Unfortunately, much of the discussion today is almost exclusively around how water and water elements relate to environmentalism. It is precisely because water is such a valuable resource that it should be responsibly incorporated and celebrated in Architecture and Landscapes. There are very few significant architects that do not make water an essential element of their architecture. Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Kahn, Mies  van der Rohe, and Luis Barragan are among the architects whose architecture is intimately bound up with water’s life force.




Questar Pools – Pool Consultant Statement

A family’s dream of owning a backyard environment should be a pleasant experience, un-encumbered by the worries of its technical details, design limitations, construction standards or its expected life span for repair or replacement. We take the worries out of your decision to own a pool.

All Questar projects have one mark of distinction: they compliment a home’s architecture and conform to its natural environment. We have built a reputation on this fact and have been recognized locally, nationally and internationally because of it. Our commitment to innovative design, long-lasting quality materials, and sound construction practices have earned us the highest honors in the industry. Your family deserves nothing less.

When you install a Questar environment, you also become an important member of the family of satisfied Questar owners. We value your trust, confidence, and happiness.

Skip Phillips

Principles that inspire breathtaking swimming pools

The principles of design are constant and universal, even though their application to a given problem usually differs. The design elements (rhythm, balance, proportion, scale and others) are the same for architects, landscape designers, interior decorators and, as you might expect, pool designers.

Read More of Skip Phillips Principles that inspire breathtaking swimming pools at LuxuryPools.com 

Questar Pools & Spas – Escondido, Ca

Internationally … the most influential pool designer.
~ Robb Report Magazine

In earlier times people could only look at their faces in the reflecting waters of a lake or in a puddle.
~ Jacques Herzog & Pierre de Meuron, Treacherous Transparencies


The Schematic Design of the DTS Project House was developed with the intention that the pool and spa would be both physically and psychologically private and not exposed to the hillside, and that the pool would be as much a water element as a swimming pool. It was not preordained exactly how the pool would become an integral part of experiencing the house. As the Schematic Design developed the pool / water element naturally filled the gap between the two distinct project elements of the parking / garage structures and the main house. This plan location and setting the pool elevation on an upper level over living space below allows the water element to act as a reflecting pool integral to the entry sequence. The water level was set at five feet above the primary entry landing so as to satisfy the five foot high fence pool enclosure requirement, but more importantly to set the water level at eye level so that the water acts as a reflective mirrored surface – “water in repose.”

Craig S. Campbell describes “water in repose” in his book Water in Landscape Architecture: “Water in repose is usually associated with meditation, contemplation, poetry, and music; a setting for love or laziness; a time and place for recharging …” The water element is intended as a contemplative pause in movement down the hillside into the house and hopefully sets the stage for many off the house’s purposes. Its central plan and elevation location connects the water element to the experience of most major spaces in the DTS Project House, including viewing panels both in the wall and floor of the pool. The spa was tucked into a very protected cave like room adjacent to the pool but not visible from the entry sequence or house interior. The Schematic Design with the pool and spa location and intentions defined was the basis for mills studio’s collaboration with Questar Pools & Spas to refine the pool and spa design and construction details as well as resolution of all technical details, such as piping, equipment, lighting, and filtration.

During the course of Design Development, a pool side gym was added underneath the motor court with a bridge across the water now connecting the two project volumes separated by the water element. A narrow linear walkway was also added along the length of the pool so that one can both enter or exit the pool along its entire length and the walkway directly connects to the shower of the pool bathroom.

The treatment of the pool eastern end at the entry landing is the most important public experience of the water element. Different treatments were considered, including a typical coping, an infinity edge, and a horizontal slot viewing panel set at the top of the pool wall looking into the water. The options were evaluated for how they accentuated the water as filling the gap between the two architectural elements and transformed the water into a volume. Questar made the convincing case that the entire end of the pool as a single viewing panel best fulfilled the criteria.  

Also, during the Design Development process, the Owners decided to look at enclosing the pool in such a way to make it climate controlled, usable year round, and maintain an ability to make it an outdoor pool when the weather permits. mills studio evaluated various options for enclosing walls of glass doors, including sliding doors, upward acting doors, horizontal bi-fold doors made by Renlita and Schweiss, vertical acting “guillotine” doors by Vitrosca. mills studio considered two very different versions of the ceiling / roof, including a sculptured opaque wood ceiling and a  steel and glass transparent ceiling. Each version was intended to both enclose the pool for climate control and extend the usable surface of the motor court, one level above the pool. Ultimately the transparent version of glass and steel was evaluated as best meeting the intentions for the pool / water element. The glass floor provides both drama from above and below connecting the pool visually to other parts of the house, and the transparent roof would provide the most natural light infiltration into the pool area.

Before making the decision to enclose the pool, mills studio and the Owners looked at ways to possibly provide a “pool cover” to address the energy negatives of having no pool cover versus a pool cover interfering with the pool acting as a reflecting pool. Novel options were considered, such as covering the pool in balls like the City of Los Angeles did with the Silver Lake Reservoir or with ping pong balls to hold down evaporation and heat loss. mills studio and Owners also looked at how a “pool cover” or the water surface could be used for projection and or the pool / water element integrated with a variety of artistic treatments. These artistic endeavors range from looking at or into the pool to see interventions; interventions created by swimmers interaction within the pool water; cameras capturing interventions in pool and projecting to other areas of the property.

mills studio studied ways to maximize daylight amounts and effects of the now enclosed pool area. Floating light wells were added at either end of the pool area capturing daylight from above and directing it down into the pool area. These two light wells were also incorporated into a projection art piece at the motor court level. When looking at choosing the most reflective  materials for the finishing of the pool, one option explored was replacing the engineered concrete shell with an exposed stainless steel pool shell. Questar Pools facilitated a connection to both a European and Domestic vendor. The domestic vendor, Diamond Spas, proved to best fulfil all of the requirements for customization, working process, and budget. Diamond Spas made the decision to switch from a concrete shell to a stainless steel shell possible. The final construction details of the pool and spa, such as the integral, floating, stainless steel below water benches, were developed based upon a stainless steel pool and spa shell. The details of how to keep vehicles from driving onto the glass floor, a structural metal bench, and the final enclosing door configurations and operations were detailed using Skyframe motorized products. HVAC and humidity control design of the pool area were necessitated to provide the capacity to transform from an outdoor to an indoor pool. With all ductwork required to be exposed in the pool area, and strict requirements to get air on the glass floor to prevent condensation, ductwork design had to be coordinated with architectural and structural design.  



Empty your mind; be formless, shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water my friend.
~ Bruce Lee