June 29, 2011
A plus-shaped pool could make it possible to swim in polluted rivers.
New York is on a roll with high-profile public spaces lately. Following the success of the High Line, which recently extended its walkway to 30th Street, three New York-based designers are now coming together to create the next big splash. + Pool is a proposal by Dong-Ping Wong, Archie Lee Coates IV and Jeffrey Franklin, to build a plus-shaped floating pool in the East River. That’s right, just floating in the river right off the banks of Manhattan. With the rising summer heat in New York, it’s no surprise that people are imagining creative ways to dive into the surrounding waters and cool off. But the idea behind + Pool is hardly new, in fact, “floating baths” as they were known, are a part of the city’s history. As early as 1817, Manhattan had private marine baths. As the immigrant population grew, people who lived in buildings that lacked bathing facilities flocked to the river. To accommodate this trend, the first floating river baths were built in 1870, separated by gender, and situated around 51st Street along the Hudson River. These were popular for decades, until they were eventually phased out in the 1930s due to concerns of congestion, hygiene, and pollution.
But the Clean Water Act of 1972 allowed people to think about using their rivers again, and ideas similar to + Pool were explored in the last few years. In 2004, Metropolis Next Generation finalist, Meta Brunzema introduced a 20-foot river pool to the Hudson River in Beacon. Decorated with a rainbow-colored perimeter, the river pool is a modular design composed of low-impact fiberglass seats and a flexible mesh made of Dyneema twine. The floating wading pool provides an experience of swimming in the middle of the river, as the mesh bottom allows the river water to flow through, bringing with it the rhythm of the natural tide.
A former Parks Department official, Ann Buttenwieser, also known as the “floating pool lady,” started Neptune Foundation, proposing a floating pool in a restored barge. After 25 years of research by Buttenwieser, the new city pool was introduced to the Brooklyn Heights waterfront in 2007, providing seven swimming lanes across 25 meters. The floating pool proved to be extremely popular that summer, and relocated to the Hunts Point peninsula in 2008, where the pool returned every summer for the next three years. It offered an alternative to the toxic and murky Bronx River, that children previously dove into illegally to escape heat. And now, + Pool has designed a floating pool with walls that will filter the river water. For the past year, the + Pool team has been working collaboratively with engineering group, Arup, to assess feasibility and understand the city’s standards. Unlike its similar predecessors, + Pool is depending heavily on funding from donations through Kickstarter, and unless the goals are met, the pool won’t be built. Fortunately, people have responded positively to + Pool, passing along its Kickstarter campaign as over 800 respondents pledged money to support this project. The campaign quickly surpassed its fundraising goal of $25,000 within the first six days of launch, a sum that will now provide + Pool with the financial resources to begin their testing. The partial prototype will test the primary filtration layer, a geotextile that is the most crucial to the filtration assembly, preventing grease, wildlife and debris from passing through. The next step for + Pool will be to raise $50,000 in order to further test different membranes that will be the most complex and integral to filtering bacteria and algae. New York has been actively thinking about its waterfront, from Bloomberg’s long-term comprehensive waterfront plan, Vision 2020, to MoMA’s exhibition last year, Rising Currents, featuring projects that tackle climate change and rising sea levels. While + Pool isn’t a restoration project like the High Line, it seems to be attracting just as much public interest, and will contribute in a similar way to the growing development of New York’s waterfront. In order to build a full-scale mock-up of the pool though, the project will need $500,000 in funding and that may require a corporate sponsor or the city’s support. If this project is realized, + Pool will further enrich the waterfront with a facility for everyone, as the elaborate design proposal combines a Children's Pool, Sports Pool, Lap Pool, and Lounge Pool into one. Responses to the + Pool proposal have made it clear: New Yorkers want a floating river pool, and always have. + Pool will be larger than anything before, and it’s looking like it might happen.
Cheryl Yau is a designer from Hong Kong and currently an MFA candidate in the Design Criticism program at the School of Visual Arts, New York. She considers typesetting to be a therapeutic activity, and will always be a city girl at heart.