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Collaborating to Craft Joy with Water & Light

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Water is the most universal element. For many, it evokes calm, tranquility, and cherished memories. As a global leader in the commercial water feature industry for over five decades, Crystal Fountains is celebrated for its mastery of blending water and light, consistently captivating audiences around the world. Founded in Toronto, Canada, in 1967, Crystal Fountains has been a global leader in designing and manufacturing commercial water features and water feature components for over 55 years. The mesmerizing water features can be seen at iconic landmarks such as the Crown Fountain in Chicago, World Voices at Bruj Khalifa, Dubai, UAE and even the Palace of Versailles.

Its inspiration can be traced back to Roger L’Heureux, an engineer by trade and artist by heart. While employed as a mechanical engineer at a drain company, Roger was unexpectedly tasked with a water feature design. Without prior fountain design experience, he rose to the challenge, which led him to striking out on his own and collaborating with sculptor and architect Gerald Gladstone for EXPO 1967 in Montreal, Canada under the name Crystal Fountains. Roger’s dream was simple: to blend water and light, connecting people with places. While delving into the history of Crystal Fountains, I had the privilege of interviewing its current President, Darcy L’Heureux. Being the grandson of Roger L’Heureux, Darcy carries on the legacy with dedication, passion, and excitement. 

At the heart of Crystal Fountains’ success lies its guiding principle: “We collaborate to craft joy with water and light.” In discussion, Darcy L’Heureux reveals the essence of the company’s sustained success. “It’s about being Experienced, Invested, and Innovative,” he explains. With a legacy spanning over 55 years, Crystal Fountains navigates the intricacies of the water feature industry, transforming client visions into tangible realities by placing their needs at the forefront of every project.

In this challenging environment, the company confronts the reality of designing water features. “Water features today require a multifaceted understanding, from knowledge of water and electricity, adherence to best practice health and safety standards, architectural design, proficiency across multiple engineering disciplines, to expertise in manufacturing and metallurgy. We’re essentially putting computers underwater. It’s a tricky affair since electronics despise water,” L’Heureux jokes, emphasizing the painstaking development and testing ensuring reliability.

In the face of evolving trends and a heightened global emphasis on sustainability, Crystal Fountains adopts holistic approach through conscientious water use and interactive, multifunctional designs. “There’s a significant shift towards lower water-use effects, like fog, which can be dramatic, engaging, and uses minimal water,” addressing the growing environmental concerns. “Designers are increasingly conscious of limiting water usage in water features due to the perception of them being wasteful, particularly in places like Dubai with substantial evaporative loss,” acknowledging the industry’s environmental responsibility. Crystal Fountains counteract wasteful practices like repurposing AC condensate, turning a building byproduct into a valuable resource for water features.

Navigating extreme weather conditions and ensuring product durability are central to Crystal Fountains’ commitment to excellence. “We do projects in countries where temperatures reach plus 50,” acknowledges the L’Heureux. “Dubai has the heat, the sandstorms, the heavy winds. Then there are places where temperatures drop to minus 20. Our Canadian-manufactured products have to work in both extremes and everything in between,” emphasizing the intense preparatory work behind each project. “The rigorous amount of testing we do, coupled with our ISO9001:2015 program is what stands out in terms of quality.” This meticulousness is crucial, especially when considering diverse climatic challenges.

Crystal Fountains - Expo 2020 Dubai
Expo 2020 Dubai

Crystal Fountains maximizes the utility of spaces with what it terms “dual use.” In colder climates, water features traditionally turn off in winter, but the company’s innovative strategies keep these installations functional and engaging year-round. “Our lighting still works in negative temperatures. So, you have an interactive water feature that kids play in, you turn off the water in winter, but then use the lighting to illuminate different sculptural elements or what we call ‘snow globes,’ essentially transforming them into Christmas ornaments.”

However, Crystal Fountains challenges this perception with thoughtful, purpose-driven design. “You can be very intentional in how water is used, designing for the spaces you have,” they explain. One best-practice approach involves reusing AC condensate — the water that typically drips off and is wasted from air conditioning units. “We’ve encourage clients to think of water features as a stopping point for this water on its journey to waste. It gets filtered to water feature level quality and used to top up what’s there, effectively recycling what would otherwise be wasted.”

This ingenuity extends beyond water conservation, touching on customer engagement with modern technology. “We’re in a society now where everyone has an expectation of being able to control things with their cell phone. There’s a desire for patron engagement, so we integrate modern hardware and software sensor technologies to turn on different elements of a water feature or control them with a device,” they note, highlighting the fusion of interactive experiences and sustainability.

Yet, despite the complex nature of modern water features, the natural allure of water remains constant. “Water is a universal human experience,” L’Heureux highlights. “Whether it’s the sea, swimming pools, or fountains, it holds precious memories for many. That’s why, after all these years, fountains still captivate and attract people.” This intricate dance between staying relevant and honoring timeless appeal is at the heart of Crystal Fountains. This isn’t achieved by chance, but through the unwavering efforts of their dedicated team. The water feature industry, being niche, requires unique expertise that cannot be found easily. “Our employees are truly our bedrock. Their vast knowledge is invaluable to us and the way we collaboratively work with clients is pivotal to our success,” L’Heureux expressed.

A strong emphasis on “employee training, retention and empowerment” was evident when discussing the company culture and internal dynamics at Crystal Fountains. Citing its significance, L’Heureux shared “The quality of your team members says a lot about your company, and your culture.”  This commitment to its team has clearly paid off. L’Heureux beams with pride, “We are fortunate to have such a talented and knowledgeable team, many of whom have been with us for decades. We are nothing without our people.” This wealth of knowledge isn’t just an internal asset; it translates directly into client benefits. With a team of experts, Crystal Fountains is well-equipped to deliver innovative solutions that ensure unparalleled customer success and satisfaction.

Venturing further, the company has ingrained a commitment to client satisfaction and perpetual success by investing in WATERlab™, a proprietary, state-of-the-art simulation software. WATERlab™ is a physics-based simulation developed to accurately demonstrate how water and light interact in a water feature. The WATERlab™ controller facilitates the design and shows programming within the software. It reduces ambiguities in selling water feature concepts, offering clients a clear understanding of what they’re investing in. “It was created to show how water and light actually work in a water feature,” one expert clarified, emphasizing that “what you observe is the actual representation of the feature. No extravagant embellishments.”

Crystal Fountain’s commitment is towards satisfaction and long-term success. Understanding the nuances of each project, the company customizes its approach to align seamlessly with their clients’ needs. As L’Heureux delved into the company’s trajectory and the essence of their client relationships, he emphasized the importance of direct, personal interactions. “Office openings are always a big deal for us,” he said, adding that, “Our industry is so heavily built on trust. You get trust by building rapport, face to face.”

Crystal Fountains - Palace of Versailles - Paris, France
Palace of Versailles – Paris, France

One of Crystal Fountains’ most notable projects was its collaboration with the Palace of Versailles. “I still remember we did the Palace of Versailles in France when the first underwater lights ever used in those water features,” L’Heureux reminisced, emphasizing the decade-long relationship with the palace. When the opportunity arose, they recounted the excitement: “I still remember when the sales rep brought in the opportunity and said, ‘Hey, I think I have a good marketing opportunity,’ and I replied, ‘Do you mean the most famous fountains in the world, Palace of Versailles?’

Its global impact doesn’t stop there, however. L’Heureux spoke with pride about the company’s presence at five World Expos, particularly spotlighting the recent event in Dubai. “Seeing those fountains, and people engaging with them was the best.”

Legacy projects hold a special place in L’Heureux’s heart. “There’s still fountains that my grandfather did… I can bring my children to see the fountain that their great grandfather built,” they mentioned, nodding to the timeless Toronto Eaton Center’s fountain from 1977.

“I can bring my children to see the fountain that their great grandfather built.”

Success for Crystal Fountains’ is not defined by scale or grandeur. As L’Heureux pointed out, it’s about providing long-lasting success for its clients, and the joy its projects bring to communities. It’s this enduring impact on communities, the joy reflected in a child’s laughter, and the shared moments of families by the water that truly define their legacy. “A milestone for me is more so watching our water features be part of the community… regardless of the scale. Seeing people actually enjoy water features… it’s so cool that kids are playing with it, or families are visiting it together.”

For over five decades, Crystal Fountains has crafted a journey marked by awe-inspiring installations, and cherished moments where water, light, and human connection converge.

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