The Canvas:Arid landscape, a hillside terrain, a postcard-perfect mountain viewThe Palette: Winding gunite aqueducts, golden travertine marble, a desert oasis encircled in cool watersThe Masterpiece:A classic Old World idea, a New Millennium look, a timeless creation
The Canvas:Arid landscape, a hillside terrain, a postcard-perfect mountain viewThe Palette: Winding gunite aqueducts, golden travertine marble, a desert oasis encircled in cool watersThe Masterpiece:A classic Old World idea, a New Millennium look, a timeless creation

For landscape architect Greg Trutza, a spiraling water rail in the Italian gardens of the Villa d’Este at Tivoli became an unlikely muse. It helped him transform a barren desertscape behind this newly built Arizona home into a tranquil outdoor living area suitable for entertaining.

“I had been to Tivoli and the Villa d’Este gardens, and the Italians would capitalize on the fact that they had water coming down a mountain, so there was no need for any pumps in the gardens in Tivoli,” says Trutza, president of New Directions in Landscape Architecture in Phoenix. “It was all done by gravity. The fountain constantly flowed from that.”

In this case, gravity is aided by pumps that send the water streaming through a 50-foot-long travertine marble-tiled channel. The channel is set into the top of a low wall that wraps around an upper patio and forms a spillway at one end. This allows a graceful sweep of recirculating water to flow into a spa on a lower terrace.

Another 64-foot-long channel on the opposite end of the 6,000-square-foot patio features two aqueducts. They pour into both sides of the negative-edge pool, creating a definite focal point. “The home had spectacular views of our Camelback Mountains, so what I wanted to do was focus the eye toward the mountains,” Trutza says. “That’s what the negative edge does.”

The structures also serve a practical function. “They’re a part of the retaining walls to hold up that backyard,” says Phoenix custom-home builder James Morgan,president of Morgan Construction. “So we had to integrate them into the retaining walls and pad.”

Rather than using concrete blocks to form the walls, Morgan shot them with gunite. “It’s basically what you would do with a pool, only it’s a pool standing in the air. When you’re shooting a pool, typically you’d be shooting down into a hole,” he says. “When we did these structures, it was above the ground, so we had to form it.”

Though shooting the gunite proved to be more complicated, it provided a smoother look. “The gunite made for a much better final product for us,” says Morgan, who often partners with Trutza on spec home projects. “We had to tile it all, plus you have the radius element to it, [and] it’s descending.”

Getting the proper flow also was an issue, Morgan notes. Not only did it need to be a uniform stream across the channels, but the speeds had to be accurately balanced to prevent a gusher from pouring out of the spillways.

“We actually have two different flows coming out of what looks like the same structure, with one set up to go into the pool and another to go into the spa,” Morgan says. “You can run the spa with the aqueduct on or off, and still have the pool running with it on.”

Yet, even without being in the pool or spa, the sights and soothing sounds of the rippling water from the railway can be refreshing in the hot climate. “Our surroundings, particularly in the summer, can be dry and brown, so to have the sparkle of water enhances the whole outdoor space,” says Trutza, noting several smaller waterfeatures are included in the backyard design.

“Some of these waterfeatures run 24 hours a day and have a real presence in the home because they’re supplying that sound in the background and, of course, the visual,” he notes. “There is a change in the quality of the space when you have the proper sound of a waterfeature — it provides a great backdrop.”