Ferry Culture

PLUS POOL ARCHITECT DONG-PING WONG WANTS YOU TO DIVE INTO THE EAST RIVER

New York City’s East River can be more swimmable than you think

By LAUREN LIPTON
east river plus pool rendering

In 2010, architect Dong-Ping Wong had an unusual vision: New Yorkers swimming happily in the East River. That was the beginning of + POOL, a plus-sign shaped public swimming pool Wong imagined floating in the river and filled with cool, sparkling, oh-so-inviting…East River water. The project is now underway, and by 2020, Wong and his trio of partners hope to have raised enough public and private money to start construction. Not to worry, he says, the pool water will be filtered. Wong likens the structure to a giant strainer in the river. 

UrbanCoast caught up with Wong, a founding partner at design firm Family New York, to ask him, among other things, why?    

UrbanCoast.nyc: First of all, how do you pronounce “+ POOL”?
Wong: “Plus Pool.” The concept behind the shape is that it’s four 25-meter pools stuck together. One pool would be for sports, one would be a children’s pool, one would have a wraparound bench for lounging, and one would be a lap pool. The lap pool and sports pool also could be combined into one long Olympic-sized pool.

UrbanCoast:  Now, why?
Wong: One of the drivers is, “Can we change how people think about the river?” But when I first had the idea, it was just, “It’s sweaty in New York, there’s water right there, I wish I could jump into it, but it’s not that appealing.” The pool was an answer to the question, “Is there a way to experience the river water without thinking it’s really gross?”  

UrbanCoast: How would you like New Yorkers to think about the East River?
Wong: At a conference a few years ago, I heard [then-City Planning Commission chair] Amanda Burden describe the waterfront as “the city’s sixth borough.” That was an incredible notion. I grew up surfing in San Diego, and the idea that the water here should be a public space is very appealing.

UrbanCoast: How would the pool work?
Wong: We are patenting a filtration system that would filter about 600,000 gallons of river water a day through the walls of the pool. What’s funny is, before this, none of us had any water-quality experience. We’re not environmental scientists, so obviously we’ve learned a ton. My knowledge of how clean or dirty the river is is more nuanced now.

UrbanCoast: Can you be more specific?
Wong: It’s relatively clean some of the time. The pollution level does spike quite a bit after there’s a dump of rain. This knowledge makes me more comfortable and more scared, because now I know what makes the river dirty, and that is raw sewage.

UrbanCoast: Even with the filter, do you think you’ll be able to overcome the hmmm-not-so-sure-about-that factor?
Wong: It’s not easy, getting over that fear. We did try out the filtration system in 2014. We built these small test pools, five feet square, and jumped into one. Even though it was like “OK, we know this is clean,” we had to trust our science.  

UrbanCoast:What’s your dream for the East River?
To learn more about + POOL, click here. You can support the effort by buying a tile for just $25—or go to the fundraising pool party on August 17. Tickets start at $200.

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Looking for more things to do around the East River? UrbanCoast.nyc

east river plus pool dong ping wong
east river plus pool artists rendering

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