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A famous opportunity

Happy Friday to a buddy :) Was a hell of a busy morning - day - ish - whatever you wanna call it. hahaha.. has me a bit behind the curve of my weekly ritual :) as I proof my final thought before sending said ritual, it is 11:47PM At the beginning of June I made a post about being old and injured, having hurt my rotator cuff while using scaffolding. I made a small mention of why we needed the scaffolding in the first place:

Way back in the day when my GP was still on this planet I asked if I could borrow a tool - in this case, scaffolding. :) I was building a large water feature for Alicia Keys - yes, her. :) I legit built this in her house when I was barely 26 :)

Stumbling through my old install pics is a nice throwback in time.. I should definitely make time in the future to share that story on another Grateful Friday...

I must have been on some spiritual alignment with the universe or something... because only 3 weeks later would I be surprisingly informed by friends and family that sure'nuff! Alicia Keys sold her home!

SIDE NOTE: Not until 2016 would I find out this was Alicia Keys' house. I only knew of it because of the local PR that surrounded her first attempt to sell it.

Over the years I've shared a lot of projects that I designed and built, however they all pale in comparison to the undertaking Alicia Keys' water wall required. Given the notoriety Alicia brings, the significant timing of selling her home, and my mention of it the water wall I built... I figured what better than to do a little project throwback and share it with a buddy :)

Crazy for me right now to think of that time back in 2008... shit howdy! damn!.. I was just 26. SHIT! 26?! a complete clean cut, non tattooed, baby faced child! (i can still only grow that much facial hair btw!)

Avin was barely 3... damn... so cute!

lord... now. haha..

I sometimes wonder if he thinks I don't see the shit he posts on the interwebs... yes I did rip off a picture from his instagram page! haha

Then Tristan.. who's Tristan?.. he wasn't even an idea at that time... like, at all. haha

I am embarrassed to report, "old fashioned" digital cameras took better pics than cell phones did at the time.. so everything I'm sharing in this thread that's not of present time, is all 100% low megapixel.

Just shows you how long ago this opportunity was for me... crazy weird!

I digress :)

Looking back on where water feature stuff started with me is nothing more than having simply fallen into them. Trying to fill a niche in mine and Chas's first home I decided to build a water feature... well at least try to. It couldn't run for more than 20 minutes without causing a large watery mess... after that mess up, I built one for my mom.. and that didn't work well either... then one again for grandparents... still... both of those could not run for more than 20 minutes either.

In 2007 while on a lunch break from work I popped into a store to kill some time. In the far back they had a huge glass water wall and some other fountains.

Being the curious type I started looking at the wall closely along with taking the lids off the other smaller fountains.. all without asking no less. The owner could see what I was doing and asked some probing questions about what I was doing... appropriately so of course. He was a shady dude, but somewhere along the line, he trusted me. He trusted me enough to allow me an opportunity after work to climb up on top of the water wall to take a closer look. To my mechanically virgin eyes, talk about a corner cutting, dirty, sloppy, unprofessional installation?! ... having no knowledge of anything other than the way I built my first 3 - which didn't work - here this guy built a 10' glass wall of water - like this?!!! and it works?! ... hmm...

After processing this kind of shit installation I knew if a similar opportunity presented itself for me to build one that I could probably pull it off... After my "inspection visit" I gave the store owner a sense of confidence in my capabilities that he started sharing my name with other customers... Here I was, barely 24-25, still had a day job, wasn't a licensed contractor, only built 3 fountains my entire life - that didn't work... and now I'm being asked to go to million dollar homes and bid to build glass water wall giants?!.. talk about fake it until you make it?!!! WOW... After meeting the store owner and hustling for about 2 months outside of my day job, I happened to sell four water walls... yeah I know... four! All of this happened while selling myself only on the three fountains I had built... of which still DID NOT WORK!... The four projects totaled up for more than my college education and more than I had ever made in one year.


talk about getting "committed" (RIP GP <3 ) Crazy to process this kind of experience through the adult mechanical/business mind I have today. I don't think I could hand a 20 something year old kid $25,000... then trust him to put holes in my house, construct something made of stainless steel and large panels of glass.. then wire electricity to a pool pump, and then have water run over it..

umm... no!

But, thank the heavens someone did... a couple times... Prior to the famous opportunity I'm leading into now, I had been asked to bid on a project for a non functional water wall, one that architects and engineers designed and couldn't get to work either! This project happened to be in the lobby of the condo building where the late Senator John McCain lived... he occupied the entire 10th floor. :) Security was stacked! Here I designed four glass water walls that sat in front of the now, not working stacked slate water wall. Thankfully, I was not awarded the project!! - but damn man! With the little experience I had, simply to be invited to bid was huge!

I suddenly found myself living an extreme double life.. I was learning the ropes of business, how to lead, how to estimate and design, build shit that actually worked, managing money (not really.. just SPENDING ALL OF IT).. balancing day job demands, life commitments, and everything else life demanded at the time. This was as close to a self inflicted bootcamp of pain and growth as I could get. Looking back at it all - man?! It sure did prepare me for what I put myself in the life I live today... which is now a triple/quadruple life... talk about being grateful for that punishment! While at my day job, I received a call asking if I could come by a lady's home to look at a wall to where she wanted a water wall to be. It was nice for me where my day jobs were located because I was either in North Scottsdale, Paradise Valley, or the Biltmore area... Lots of high dollar places! Since it wasn't too far from where I was working I said I'd swing by after work and take a look. So in about 7 minutes I was there. Damn bro... Me and my family car pulled up to this place...

Approaching the front door was terrifying! I was so, SO out of my element! goodness!.. damn!

Once inside and talking with the person coordinating these efforts, she leaned her entire body up against a wall and said! "a water wall right here"

Damn... Ok then... Shit...

hahah! So I left with a couple ideas and I told her I would get back to her. Driving home was quite rewarding. Having been asked to quote this job was awesome alone... Fortunately I could feel that the project was more attainable than the John McCain opportunity. So I drove home in silence pondering designs. :) I vividly remember being in Avin's bedroom drawing this up and preparing the quote. Chas was at work and it was just he and I at home. He played in his room with his toys while I used an old particle board shelf I had repurposed into a lap table for my laptop... he's playing and I'm drawing and crafting my ideas while we both engage together. Man those were different times... kinda sad really. :( I created a couple renderings of different designs and packaged them up into one nice proposal and emailed them to her. I spent 20 hours putting everything together, and although the price tag was near six figures... hot damn?! I felt confident hitting send.

(what's funny about using Jerry the mouse here is that I KNOW YOU KNOW EXACTLY WHAT IT SOUNDS LIKE!) HAHAHAH

I hope it makes sense to them... I hope they say yes... I hope I know what the hell I'm doing?!... Days later I got the call saying they'd like to move forward. The only change we decided to do was remove the full bend at the top and transition the arch into the ceiling. Turns out I had beat out another company located in Florida who builds these as well... damn bro! shit! ... better not mess this one up I thought. I made time to go back to the home, take harder dimensions and collect the check. The 50% deposit was almost more than all the walls combined. More than I was making in a year at 26. Not only was the design and installation outside of my day job stressful.. but managing that kind of money made it feel that much more stressful! Now with a deposit and plan, time to start building this bitch!! hahah! :) :) In 2008, life was simpler. It was new, fun and uncharted. It was a time before money, ego, and entitlement ruined relationships. Siblings and their spouses along with my parents would complicate and further sever the relationships I have with brothers today. Going through the pics is fun, but also very bitter sweet. Every bit of how, when, what's next, all of it lay solely on my shoulders throughout the project.. However, in order to pull off this kind of project off we needed each other and worked well together. Before we could start on the stuff in our local shop (mine and Chas's garage at home) I needed to get the stainless steel design out of my head, onto paper, and into the metal shop for fabrication.

How the mechanics of the water wall works is quite simple really:

Water sits inside a basin at the bottom of the fountain. There is a pool pump below the basin. The pool pump sucks water from the basin above, then pushes water up a flexible hose located inside one of the hollow vertical columns next to the glass. The hose from the pump below is also connected to the distribution unit, the "throttle body" at the top, and sends water out through flexible nozzles that are pressed against the glass. Water runs out of the nozzles at a controlled pressure and falls down with gravity into the basin below. The basin is connected to an automatic water fill float (like a toilet or pool) so that when evaporation occurs water is filled automatically. The cycle repeats itself endlessly. Make sense now? :)


Having nothing more than just a good idea on how something should work, I need to get this idea out of my head.. or it will consume me.. Ask Chas :) I like to think that the way the ideas come off the page and into the mechanical reality of my mind is the way a musician feels when reading their music and hearing it in their head...


I can't play a tune to save my ass... so, I'm speculating there. ;) This is what the mechanical music looks like to me: Section view...

The top "throttle body" - the part that deploys the water and holds the glass...

The lower "basin" holds the panels of glass along with removable rocktray parts.

Then two big ass pieces of expensive glass sit inside the basin, butted together, then lean against the throttle body above.

Ok! you should be an expert on the process now! :) So! While this is being built by the stainless steel fabricators, we hammer on the easy shit! - wood framing! Here we start with the lower enclosure... It needs to be structurally strong enough to support the weight of two 1/2" thick panels of tempered glass. The glass was custom, custom, custom. It was handmade, hand textured and pigmented in Azurite Blue.

and cost $20,000!

Each panel is 11' tall by 45" wide at 6.5lbs per square feet..

doing the math, each panel of glass weighs in at about 270lbs!

I was in no spot to risk the integrity of the base! it needed to be beefed up!

Not only did it need to hold all that weight of the glass, it also needed to hold the weight of the water... along with that complication, it also had house electrical components and the pool pump inside. Since it had all these mechanical items, mechanical items needed to be serviceable, which means I had to design an access panel that could open and close. At this time they did not have the super quiet variable speed pumps like today.. instead they had pumps that turned on and off... and were loud! In addition to everything I mentioned above, it also had to be very, very sound resistant. The exterior was a double layer of 1/2" drywall with sound barrier calking between, then double foam insulation inside wall framing, then enclosed again on the interior with another double layer of 1/2" drywall with sound barrier. The access panel was two 3/4" plywood panels smashed together topped off with an 1/8" piece of steel on the front that is overall larger than the wood panel itself so it could close things up tight..

We used long allen headed bolts that threaded through and connected to a really stout piece of angled steel.

Avin shows us what kind of space we have inside the lower enclosure. You can see the black steel around the opening.

And finally! the vertical sides and top arch. :) This picture puts it in perspective to how big this fountain really was. I am sure I confused my neighbors as they drove by.

damn that's a huge bitch!

Now that we're done and ready for the big install, it was shortly thereafter when I asked GP if I could borrow his scaffolding. Of which he bestowed it onto me like a knight ready for battle!

We were too cheap to buy casters for the bottom of the scaffolding ($100)... so instead we used carpet samples and pushed this scaffolding bitch along the travertine floor to move it back and forth! LAME! That would not fly today! Night time light check! Success!

Definitely a prelude to the "light-whore" I have become over these years. Now, ready for drywall!

Drywall done! Stainless steel throttle body and basin installed (no pics of these).... :( Ready for glass! Pucker factor 12.5!! HOLY CRAP!! Check out them stairs!

Damn!! I cannot get over that all of this shit was coordinated and installed during my day job life... WOW?! I forgot what an undertaking this was! Now it's time to hook shit up and make things work!

There was an electrician who wired up the pump for us... it was a strange moment when he happened to wire it incorrectly, requiring me to step in and fix it, while he watched me do so. The client's rep was there and watched that moment unfold... I felt pretty badassery afterwards! hahah small wins!

Preflight checks!

Go time!

Each nozzle has its own gate valve to individually control the flow of each port... gets a bit on the wet and messy side! ..

But damn! Done well and correctly, water runs smooth over glass! It's so rewarding watching an idea evolve 100% into reality! :)

This is looking up from the bottom btw!... notice the specially designed stainless shroud that covers the black nozzles? I love small finish touches like that! :) When this project was all said and done, my grandparents made it up from Tucson to come see it in person. It was the only project of its size that I was able to share with my GP in person. Considering the overall scope and accomplishment when it was finished, I was really pleased to have him see it in person. It's neat comparing these final pics to the renderings above... pretty damn spot on! Like really :)

Notice the painted steel access panel? I wanted it to be as visually subdue as possible.

The video here paints a nice picture of the overall texture while the water runs down it. Really cool! Just wish the video was on today's cellphone! haha :) Video Link:

It would be many years down the road before I designed another stainless steel water wall. That one was shipped out to be installed by contractors building a hospital states away. Pretty damn cool job.. :) Here's the link to that video if you wanna get down :) I explained a lot in detail so the contractors knew what to do - and it's filmed from a modern day cell phone! quality is on point! Video link:

That being said, Alicia Keys custom water wall would be the last big water feature project I would personally install. Makes me wonder what the water feature business would have turned into had I had the kind of controllable time I have now... like finishing the proofing of this bitch at i have issues with time! especially now after the re-read, it's 1:49AM I guess I will never know ;) What a project to hang my hat on though :) As I end all my posts that involve a water feature... there's just some things I cannot top.. and that's mother nature's true walls of water! Thanks for your time reading my science project presentation! haha! Have a grateful weekend friend!

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