A reflecting pool is a geometrically proportional, shallow pond characterized by an exceptionally calm and tranquil surface. It is typically built near a manmade structure or landscape element so that its mirror-like surface can reflect and magnify adjacent forms. It can be constructed in the middle of a garden, in the center of a courtyard, at the end of a yard, or as the focal point of a seating area in a plaza or urban park.
Some of the more famous reflecting ponds found throughout the world are located near the Washington Monument, The University of Western Australia, Planalto Palace in Brasilia, and Hermann Park in Houston, Texas.
The remarkably calm water that is found in these solemn masterpieces of landscape architecture is created by a simple trick of physics. The edges of the pond are slightly deeper than the center of the pond. This prevents the formation of waves when the wind is blowing, and keeps the water very still so it will retain its reflective aspect.
In residential landscape design, a reflecting pond is an ideal to link divergent landscape elements into a unified aesthetic of contemplation. It brings both organic and inorganic elements together into a single focal point in a moment of time. For this reason, reflecting pools are often built beneath a large garden sculpture or fountain. The reflections they create helps magnifying the element and increase its sense of unique prominence in landscape design.
Another ideal place to create this effect is any portion of the yard that is populated by outcroppings of trees. When there are only a handful of trees on the landscape, a reflecting pool will make it appear as though there are many more trees than there actually are. Whereas some parts of Houston, such as the Memorial Area, have very large lots filled with an abundance of trees, other parts of town are not so fortunate. These neighborhoods are characterized by smaller lots and only three or four trees in the back yard. Adding what amounts to a landscape mirror will make these yards look much larger than they actually are, and minimal tree growth more robust and park-like in presentation.
It is also very common to build reflecting pools near homes and commercial structures. The water here will have the effect of extending the edifice of a structure forward into space. In Houston neighborhoods where the trend is now to build up instead of out, reflecting ponds can add a chic and very vibrant aesthetic to any Midtown, Museum District, or Downtown high-rise community. A reflecting pond here can be constructed in the center of a courtyard between dwellings and create a point of convergence for architectural angles and edifices to come together in the spaces between living space.
Reflecting pools in both residential and commercial environments should preferably be constructed with vanishing pool edges. The infinity edge makes the water seem more like a true mirror because there is is no coping surrounding the water to distract your eye from the images it reflects. This is especially true in contemporary and municipal environments where the mathematical connotations of the infinity edge compliment the geometric absolutism of modern architecture and contemporary landscape design.
Landscape architects generally construct the basins of reflecting pools out of very dark material. This makes it easier for the water to reflect light, because any light that penetrates beneath the surface of the water will be absorbed by the darker hues of the pool shell rather than reemerging from beneath the surface. It also minimizes the visible presence of the pond bottom which would otherwise be clearly seen were it made from lighter colored material.