Cool pool

The +POOL offers a clean and safe way for the public to swim in New York’s waters.

The +POOL offers a clean and safe way for the public to swim in New York’s waters.


At the Design Indaba Conference in 2019, architect Dong-Ping Wong unveiled some of his ideas for projects that ‘don’t just look pretty but help the environment and the people who live in it’. One of these was the +POOL (Plus Pool), a water-filtering pool designed to float on New York’s East River. 


Record high heat in 2023 saw many New Yorkers seeking reprieve in water, but, due to low water quality, they were unable to use the rivers that flow throughout the city. 

Wong’s goal was to ‘give people the opportunity to swim in safe, chemical-free river water for the first time in a century’, with the hope that shifting the psychology of how people understand the river and how they can incorporate it into their lives will help them commit to protecting it.


Now, almost five years since the conference and ten years since the idea was conceived, the +POOL is entering the first stages of testing, following the announcement by New York governor Kathy Hochul of a $16-million (about R300 million) investment. The nonprofit Friends of +POOL plans to launch a smaller, 2 000-square-foot (186-square-metre) version of the water-filtering swimming pool using +POOL’s design and technology to demonstrate how it all works. 


So how does it work? The plus-sign-shaped floating swimming pool filters river water through its walls using a unique system that can clean more than three million litres of water a day without chemicals or additives, bringing raw river water up to an acceptable microbiological standard for swimming.


The plus-sign shape is configured to allow for four different types of pools to join together - lap swimming pool, a lounging pool, a watersports pool and a children’s activity pool - for a total of 9 000 square feet (about 836 square metres). The pool’s legs combine in the centre to form an Olympic-length swimming pool. 


Unfortunately, the original architect of the +POOL  idea itself, Dong-Ping Wong, has recently released a statement expressing his concerns over where the project is heading, particularly with regards to protecting the communities that live in the area, ‘the majority of whom are people of colour and lower income’, he noted. ‘I’m concerned about what concessions to access might be made in the service of commercial interests, and about what agreements with predatory developers might be taking place without my knowledge,’ he said. 


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