A Floating Public Pool Is Coming to New York’s East River

Yes, you read that correctly. The city has approved plans for an Olympic-size swimming pool, shaped like a plus, to float in the famously contaminated waterway.

Most New Yorkers would advise against bathing in the famously polluted East River. But what if a public pool could clean a small portion of it? That’s the question asked by four friends—Archie Lee Coates IV and Jeff Franklin of the design firm PlayLab, and Dong-Ping Wong and Oana Stanescu of architecture firm Family—when they conceived the + POOL, a floating plus-shaped public pool that filters more than 600,000 gallons of East River water daily without any chemicals or additives. 

The main motivation behind launching + POOL, according to its website, is “to get into the river. The project was launched with the ambition to improve the use of the city’s natural resources by providing a clean and safe way for the public to swim in New York’s waters. Like a giant strainer dropped into the river, + POOL will filter bacteria and contaminants through concentric layers of filtration materials that make up the walls of the pool itself—leaving only clean, safe, and swimmable river water.”

Now, after more than ten years of planning, fundraising, negotiations, and testing filtration systems, the public amenity is much closer to becoming a reality. According to a recent Instagram post, + POOL has received an official “confirmation to proceed with due diligence” after nearly two years of review by the New York City Economic Development Corporation. The designers will now work directly with the city on next steps, which involve raising up to $25 million. A site has already been determined: just north of the Manhattan Bridge in the Two Bridges neighborhood. If all goes according to schedule, the Olympic-size swimming pool should be completed in two years.

With news that Bjarke Ingels Group plans to create a public beach on the Williamsburg waterfront, the contaminated East River is about to get much more accessible. We wonder if any designers will ever be brave enough to tackle the Gowanus Canal

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