What’s Inside the Carry–On Bag of a Water Park Designer?


David Fredenburgh, a Toronto–based landscape architect who specializes in amusement and water parks, on building immersive worlds, his dream theme and what he packs when planning attractions across the globe.

Whether it’s a science park in Northern Ontario inspired by the region’s mining heritage, or a theme park in China based on ancient folklore, David Fredenburgh tells stories through rides and waterslides. As a landscape architect with Forrec, the company behind destinations like Canada’s Wonderland, Universal Studios Florida and Legoland Deutschland, he and his team are continually redefining the modern theme park. Fredenburgh’s current projects include a large brand–name water park in western China and a fantasy garden in Vietnam, both now in the planning stages. His dream theme? “Outer space. I’d like to create a water park that allows people to contemplate the vastness of the universe and understand how spectacular and mystical it is.”

December 4, 2020

enRoute How do you kick off the design process for your projects?

David Fredenburgh I really enjoy working with clients who come to us with a blank slate and the sky is the limit attitude. In those cases, we’ll start by defining a vision for the park and presenting them with a few storylines. We often use virtual reality and animation so clients can immerse themselves in the space and experience it as guests. Since a lot of our work is in Asia, these dynamic visuals also help us communicate ideas to clients when there is a language barrier.

ER What inspires your designs?

DF I like to seek inspiration from the local culture. Recently, I helped design a theme park in China that touched on the country’s ancient civilization and folklore. I’m fortunate that my work has allowed me to spend a lot of time there learning about the country’s rich history, architecture and cuisine. Visiting the Great Wall of China still sticks with me. And then I get to take all of that knowledge and respectfully use it to create a unique guest experience. The idea is to blend a park’s central rides and attractions with that local flavour to create something that’s playful and engaging. You can teach people and open their eyes to cultural aspects if that’s all tied into the storyline. At the same time, we’re not trying to create a history museum – we know there are institutions that cover that. It needs to be fun, entertaining, immersive and have a social aspect.

ER What’s it like to see people using the parks you’ve worked on?

DF I was there for the opening day of Dynamic Earth Science North, an outdoor exhibit at the Big Nickel in Sudbury, Ontario. We made an educational play space with slides and various mining equipment that was donated by the industry. The media was there, and then they opened it up for children and families to come in, and we saw everything we had worked hard on and drawn out come to life. When you see people using the space that you’ve designed as it’s intended, it’s extremely rewarding.

ER How does location influence a park’s design?

DF You want to make sure you use the site’s terrain to your advantage. The beauty of rides and waterslides is that they’re flexible and you can usually reconfigure them to fit the landscape. I’ve helped design parks where the slides are nestled into hills and it looks great. But you also need a significant amount of flat land to accommodate pools. With other projects, like the indoor water park for Mall of America in Minnesota, we had to figure out how to fit all of our attractions into a confined space.

ER What innovations are happening in the amusement and water park worlds?

DF Water parks are becoming a lot more immersive and better at telling stories. There are a lot of rides on the market that push the envelope beyond the standard lazy river and wave pool. Aquaticar, for example, resembles a driving ride you’d traditionally see in a theme park, but it goes underwater among schools of fish. There’s also a big push for sustainability in the industry. Investors are increasingly looking for ways to reduce energy consumption. Some park operators have even incorporated solar panels into their design as shade structures to benefit from renewable energy.

ER Where are you excited to head next?

DF I’m looking forward to connecting with our clients in Asia and making up for lost face–to–face time. For personal travel, I have my eyes on the U.K. – I had planned a backpacking trip from London to the north shore of Scotland in March that was upended by the pandemic. In February I was in Peru, surfing, sandboarding and climbing Machu Picchu – I tend to go for adventure tourism.

ER What’s your packing style?

DF I’m a folder. It’s a time investment, but it’s rewarding when I open my luggage on the other side and see everything nicely laid out.

ER Do you pack in advance or at the last minute?

DF I aim to pack at least 24 hours before my flight.

ER Any travel hacks to share?

DF To combat jet lag, I switch time zones as soon as I board the airplane. It means I’m either forcing myself to sleep right away or fighting to stay awake – but it makes a huge difference.

What’s in David’s bag?

Acetate footprints in a binder
  • Acetate footprints — A catalogue of slides is essential for the planning stage: We can flip through and select ones based on their shape and size, then move them around on top of a plan.

Sketches done with a Pilot V-sign pen on a quad ruled notepad
  • Quad ruled notepad and Pilot V–sign pen — Whether it’s to take notes during a site tour or doodle on the airplane, I always carry paper with me – the grid makes it easy to scale up sketches with the right proportions.

An HP tablet laptop and stylus with a water park rendering on the screen
  • HP tablet laptop — I can bring plans, ideas and digital drawings to life during a pitch meeting with this tablet. But then I’ll convert it into a laptop and do all my administrative work on it, too.

Sketches drawn onto tracing paper
  • Tracing paper — I use this translucent paper to superimpose waterslide sketches on site plans, then move them around to help the client visualize what it could look like.

Two sets of colourful fibreglass samples
  • Fibreglass samples — Waterslides are a park’s visual focal point, so we always propose a colour palette that complements the storyline we’ve developed.