The Aquatic Work Environment

Published on May 25, 2018

atrium pond build
Here is the previous pond in the same atrium before the rebuild.

For many people, ponds play an essential role in balancing work and play. After a long, grueling day at the office, there’s nothing quite like unwinding pondside with a cold beverage to clear your head and lose yourself among the melodies of flowing water.

But if you ask Jim Warmington, Jr., chairman and CEO of The Warmington Group, a homebuilding and real estate company based in Costa Mesa, California, why must you wait until you get home to reap the benefits of living the pond life?

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Since the company headquarters was built in 1981, its employees, customers and visitors have enjoyed the solace and serenity of a large koi pond centered in the office atrium. The company’s original 4,500-gallon, lush pondscape was designed and built by Warmington’s uncle, who headed the company at that time.

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Following steady growth over the next three decades, the company found its headquarters in need of a major renovation. The pond, too, was ailing from years of plumbing and electrical issues that are characteristic of most 30-year-old ponds. In fact, Warmington felt it was necessary to gut and revamp the entire atrium. When the repairs and remodel were complete in 2015, the office had a completely new, modernized look.

“People started asking me, ‘Do you guys still have that koi pond?’” Warmington said. “I’d say, ‘We sure do, but it’s way cooler.’”

Warmington, who shares his uncle’s fondness of koi ponds, spearheaded the design and build of a new, 32,000-gallon formal pond that spans the entire atrium. A walkway connects the office space, allowing the resident koi, sturgeon, goldfish and loaches to swim underneath.

“It has always been my dream to make the whole area into a pond,” Warmington said. “Everyone sort of thought I was crazy.”

Warmington said he initially wanted to install a saltwater pond, but due to the high electrical and specialized maintenance requirements of such a pond, he changed his mind at the last minute.

 atrium pond koi
Building the shelves for the atrium pond.

“I just wanted people to be impressed,” he said. “I thought I could show them how cool aquatic life is.”

Due to various issues with the plants that adorned the previous pond, which included a lack of direct sunlight and an occasional infestation of bugs due to the absence of pesticides, he opted for no flora and lots of fauna in the new pond. He turned to Ben Plonski at Laguna Koi Ponds for assistance in handpicking the 70 unique, gilled residents of his new office centerpiece, some of which are more than 20 years old. Plonski said he was happy to be part of this project.

atrium pond koi“It’s really cool architecture,” Plonski said. “It is truly amazing.”

Plonski, the president of Matala USA, also installed the new pond’s filtration system. He pays weekly visits to the Warmington Group headquarters to maintain the pond, which he says is massively easy to clean.

“Once every two months, we pull a standpipe in the filter, and the waste flushes straight to the sewer,” he said.

Matala upflow filters are built into the pond’s two large waterfalls, both of which are about 15 feet tall and 8 feet wide, creating three distinct levels of the pond. This constant flow results in very little algae growth and dust to contend with. Plonski and Warmington worked together to make sure the water flows as it was designed, with no dead spots or places for waste to accumulate.

Despite the initial skepticism he faced from his wife, family and colleagues before the remodel, Warmington says he is proud of his new, oversized occupational oasis.

“You can’t walk right through without wandering around and looking at the fish,” he said.

His roughly 120 employees who work with him in the 50,000-square-foot office building share his sentiments about the new pond. Betty Miyahara, the receptionist at The Warmington Group for the past 14 years, has assumed the day-to-day responsibilities of feeding and caring for the fish.

“They are my babies,” she said. “They really enhance the quality of life for everyone here.”

atrium pond koi
The finished new atrium pond.

Miyahara said that her fellow employees often come to her during a break and ask to feed the fish. Many of the koi will comfortably eat right out of your hand.

“Some (employees) have named them,” Miyahara added. “One is called Hot Lips because it has red around its mouth. But they’re all cute!”

The pond is a hit with customers, too ⎯ so much that a few have gotten a little too close to the fish. Despite a couple of incidents of someone falling into the pond, the company reports no pond-related injuries.

“People are shocked at how clean and pristine it is now,” Warmington said. “It’s unique and mesmerizing and relaxing all at the same time.”

atrium koi pond
Betty hand feeding koi.

As corporate culture continues to explore new, innovative perks to bestow upon its employees, The Warmington Group takes pride in providing its employees and visitors with an aquatic ambiance in the center of its office space, which can be enjoyed from 9 to 5 and around the clock.

“Now I couldn’t think of not having a pond in the office,” Miyahara said. “It’s just so calming to listen to.”

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