Architect Dong-Ping Wong is preparing to launch the world’s first floating, self-filtering pool on New York’s waterways. I recently interviewed Wong for a story in Tech Times while his sneakers got soaked as the tide rose along the recently made-over East River Esplanade. The following post is taken largely from that story.
Wong calls the concept +Pool and describes it as a giant water filter that draws river water through the pool walls and uses a succession of geotextile layers to sift increasingly minute contaminants out of the water. Filtered pool water is then released back into the river, helping to clean it. He likens the floating pool to a barge that will enable New Yorkers to immerse themselves in the river safely. The pool’s distinctive “plus” shape results from intersecting a lap and sports pool with a lounging pool and kids pool.
The +POOL is envisioned as a floating structure that’s permanently moored at a single location with additional pools being built according to demand. The pool would be open year-round, providing heated water for swimming in winter.
Wong and partner Oana Stanescu at Family, a Manhattan architectural design firm, launched the project five-and-a-half years ago, largely on a whim.
“We just thought it’d be a funny idea and silly (but) it kind of made sense,” says Wong, a 30-something, San Diego native who moved to New York 13 years ago to train as an architect at Columbia University. “When we started it we had no idea what impact this could have on the city, let alone if anybody would want it, so we designed it very simply and put a website up.”
Within two weeks, a deluge of inquiries from around the world crashed the site and the +Pool team got a call from Arup, the international engineering giant behind the Centre Pompidou in Paris, The Sydney Opera House and New York’s Second Avenue Subway. Suddenly they had a real project on their hands.
Two Kickstarter campaigns followed in quick succession. The first was a $25,000 campaign in 2011 to raise money for water quality testing.
“I think we hit our mark in six days and raised about $40,000-$45,000,” says Wong. “We were sampling every 15 minutes so the amount of data we collected was just immense and the most detailed that’s ever been collected on the river, as far as we can tell.”
Wong and his team partnered with Google to set up a +Pool Dashboard that live-streamed the data that was being collected, providing the public with real-time information on the health of the river.
Wong is on track to launch the first +Pool in the summer of 2020 and is currently in the thick of dealing with the Department of Environmental Conservation, the Department of Health, the Department of Environmental Protection and other regulatory agencies that manage public works like municipal pools, boat basins and wastewater discharge facilities around the city.
“Our pool is really interesting because it actually falls between certain codes,” says Wong. “It doesn’t exactly fit into anything that’s written because nobody wrote a code for this kind of thing before. It’s really exciting but it’s also an ongoing conversation to figure out how we modify our project to fit into codes and are there even ways to modify codes to fit into our project. That’s probably the longest ongoing discussion we’re having.”
This waterfront dialogue is taking place amid growing interest in rehabilitating urban waterfront zones around the world. Wong has been invited to speak about his pool in Copenhagen, Berlin, Munich and, in the U.S., in Houston and Memphis, and has found like-minded initiatives underway in all of these cities.
“There are other floating pools…. There’s a great one in Copenhagen…. There’s an existing project in Berlin which (consists of) finding a part of the river where they can plant a lot of reeds and maybe clarify the river a little bit,” says Wong. “They’re putting a pool into the Thames probably in the next few years…. There’s a group in Houston trying to cordon off a part of the bayou so people can swim.”
The level of interest has been such that Wong has started an informal coalition he calls “The City River Swimming Club” to create a network of urban waterfront pools that members can use in major cities around the world.
“There are parks coming back to the river, but the idea that you could actually go for a morning swim as part of your routine or have a lunch break and go for a swim and really have that be part of your daily life is pretty amazing,” says Wong from his wet riverside niche, where seagulls have begun to gather around him in anticipation of snack.
“Here, I actually live closer to the river than I ever have to the ocean but you never think of New York as a beach town. My life has nothing to do with the river on a day-to-day basis aside from this project, but you feel that starting to change in the city.”