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Chatting with Pool Design Innovator – Noah Nehlich

Discussing his start in the pool industry and release of Vip3D 3.0. Product feedback from designer Kyle Franco.

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Today we're chatting with Noah Nehlich of Structure Studios and learning more about Vip3D 3.0

For the past decade Pool Studio has been a favorite design software for professionals in the pool industry. With the release of Vip3D 3.0 the software has evolved to move the future of Pool Design into an artform all it’s own. The new capabilities of the software make 3D renderings more realistic than ever before. Today we’re chatting with Noah Nehlich, the innovative genius and driving engine of Structure Studios – developers of Pool Studio, VizTerra, Vip3D, and YARD.

We wanted to give our readers the complete backstory about Nehlich and Structure Studios. In the course of our discussion we found out how he first got his start in the pool industry and talked about some of the amazing new features in Vip3D’s latest release. We also talked with one of the beta testers and top pool designers – Kyle Franco, to get his assessment about the new features in version 3.0.

Today, we're chatting with Noah Nehlich - Founder & President of Structure Studios
Today, we’re chatting with Noah Nehlich – Founder & President of Structure Studios

The Story Behind Noah Nehlich & Structure Studios

Noah Nehlich has certainly come a long way in his career. Twenty years ago he had aspirations of being a video game designer. He spent the majority of his time designing game levels and mods for popular computer games. The trajectory looked set for a career in Gaming. That was, until the day he happened to incorporate one of his brother-in-laws pool designs into a game level he had modifying. Nehlich had been inspired by the design (a geometric pool with fire bowls) and replicated it into a 3D model.

The rendering which would be considered rough by todays standards was pretty cutting edge at the time and utilized the Unreal Engine found in some of the most popular computer games of the day. When his brother-in-law saw the end result he was floored. Word began to quickly get around. Joe Vassallo (an industry veteran) who was with Paddock Pools at the time, had seen a demonstration and introduced Nehlich to Buzz Ghiz of Paramount.

Ghiz, (a legend in his own right in the pool industry) was impressed with the young man and the technology. Ghiz asked Nehlich to give a presentation of his 3D pool designs.

“I’m 19 years old and there I am… in a corporate boardroom, giving a presentation for the very first time in my life. But it’s going well, I mean, there were audible gasps in the room.”

Noah Nehlich – Structure Studios

From that point Nehlich’s path transitioned from Gaming Designer to Pool Designer. Nehlich had begun providing design services for a variety of diffent pool companies. He had put together some 3D Pool Packages and began functioning as a design consultant for pool builders across the country.

At first Nehlich offered 6 different pools with 3 variations each for $5,000. The design packages he offered sold quickly. Pool companies noticed that 3D renderings helped them dramatically shorten the sales cycle. Nehlich observed that while his product was very successful, his business model still wasn’t. He noticed that he still wasn’t making much profit as a Pool Designer. “The process simply took too long.” said Nehlich.

Nehlich knew that 3D rendering technology would streamline the sales process and change the pool industry.

Pivoting to Software Development

Nehlich knew that converting his design process into a software was the correct path towards establishing a much more profitable business model. It was at this point that he began working with a team of developers in order to help bring his vision for the product to life. Nehlich found a group of initial investors and began the arduous process of developing a software and bringing it to market.

Innovation comes with struggle

“The journey wasn’t without it’s struggles.” says Nehlich “It took four years and we went 10 times over our original projected budget for developing the software.”

Early investors threatened to walk numerous times, Nehlich explained. The stress of potential failure was something that he coped with daily during development. Still, he continued to throw everything he had at his idea. When down to his last $1.18 in his pocket, Nehlich found that he had exactly enough money left for a poor man’s feast at Taco Bell. He paused for a second and seemed to reflect on this for a moment during the course of our conversation.

With the software still left unfinished, Nehlich was some how able to convince investors to continue with the project. Investors agreed not to pull the plug, provided he was able to complete a sale. At the 11th hour, Nehlich had managed to sell Viking Pools a 3D Rendering package for $20,000. The cash infusion brought investor confidence back in Nehlich, enough to see the software project through to it’s fruition.

Fast foward to 2004 – Structure Studios was staring at 400 pre-orders valued at $2,000 each. First year revenue of $800,000 from a grass roots effort of showing off the product one builder at a time. “There were no crowd funding platforms like Kickstarter back in ’04, they simply didn’t exist yet.” said Nehlich.

Nehlich and his team had successfully managed to build enough confidence with early adopters to grow his software Pool Studio into a viable product and Structure Studios into a thriving company.

Pool Studio would revolutionize the industry by giving designers the tools they needed to produce sophisticated 3D renderings.
Pool Studio would revolutionize the industry by giving designers the tools they needed to produce sophisticated 3D renderings.

The software and company which Nehlich had founded, suddenly began receiving tremendous attention. During conventions and tradeshows, throngs of spectators were huddling 20 deep just to grab a glimpse of the incredible new 3D technology in action.

The product however, was still very new for the industry. Builders were in awe of the capabilities, but Structure Studios was still finding difficulty achieving mass adoption with their new product.

“In 2008, the economy was riding high and many builders felt they still didn’t need 3D in order to close sales.” said Nehlich. This was in spite of the fact that more and more companies began incorporating 3D in their sales presentations.

By 2009, The Great Recession had hit the pool industry hard and perceptions slowly began shifting. “Builders found increasing competition in the market.” said Nehlich. “The economic downturn had suddenly made it much more difficult for them to close sales.” he continued.

Builders vying for those same discretionary dollars suddenly found that they needed a differentiator to help give them an edge. Structure Studios answered by providing them the means to compete at a whole new level. Nehlich had helped usher in a new era, providing the pool industry with the software necessary to Design for Story. Homeowners could now completely visualize what their outdoor project would look like from start to finish as a realistic 3D representation.

Demand for Nehlich’s 3D design software began to skyrocket. Structure Studios would ultimately wind up releasing a variety of different software products that catered to pool designers as well as landscape and hardscape designers.

  • VizTerra is the Professional Designer’s Choice. Customized for landscape, hardscape, and outdoor living and garden designers as well as builders and architects.
  • Pool Studio is an intuitive interface with 3D design tools that enables designers to create immersive 3D presentations. The software makes generating expertly designed swimming pools a breeze.

In 2009, Structure Studios combined the two softwares together into a unified platform and released Vip3D which is actually an acronym for Vizterra in Pool Studio. The new software combined the best aspects of both and was an immediate success. With tremendous confidence in the future of his product, Nehlich leveraged every penny he had during the height of the recession in 2010 to purchase 100% ownership of Structure Studios.

Over the years, Nehlich and his team have continuously worked on their platform to refine and improve the experience for both the end user and the consumer. Recently they released their newest version of the award winning platform. A new and improved rendering engine supports many of the innovative features now found in Vip3D.

New Enhancements in Vip3D 3.0

  • Next-level realistic real-time 3D rendering
  • Edit shapes instantly in 3D
  • More automatic terrain data
  • All new material library

One of the aspects that Nehlich and his team worked hard on improving in 3.0 is the realism in 3D graphics. “The consumers tolerance for 3D changes with the technology.” said Nehlich. “The bar for realism in 3D environments goes up each year.”

Pool Designer Kyle Franco Beta Tested Vip3D 3.0

To get a pulse of how the new features in Vip3D are perceived in the industry, we decided to contact Kyle Franco, a top pool designer and one of the beta testers of Version 3.0.

We asked Franco, co-owner of Premier Pools & Spas in Fort Worth, what he thought of the new version. Franco, who has been using the software for years, makes great use of the platform. A top performer for the Premier Pools organization; his 3D pool designs are helping him develop his social media following.

Kyle Franco -showcasing some of the new functionality found in Vip3D 3.0 - Seen here: More realistic flame effects, depth of field and fireflies which Franco incorporated into his sales presentation.
Kyle Franco -showcasing some of the new functionality found in Vip3D 3.0 – Seen here: More realistic flame effects, depth of field and fireflies which Franco incorporated into his sales presentation.

“The new version really allows me as a custom designer to take things to the next level with more details.” said Franco, whose designs can also been seen on DIY Channel’s TV Show – Pool Kings. “As a builder it helps provide a better visual for the homeowner so that they have the right expectations when the pool is completed.” he continued.

“I nearly perfected the old version and was excited to see this come out and begin working on it!” said Franco, “The new functions in version 3 allow me to design even faster than before, which is a huge bonus for someone like me.”

We asked him to elaborate on what other improvements he liked. “One of my favorite things about the new version is the detail in color, and presentation mode. All the options to really spice up the images and videos, are incredible! All in all, just an amazing update… I have all 5 of my designers using it!”

The Future of Pool Design

Nehlich says the future for 3D Pool Designs is even brighter as we move into 2022 and beyond. “As mobile processors and hardware catches up, we continue to innovate and improve upon our products.” said Nehlich.

Augmented Reality is one of the emerging technologies Structure Studios has invested in - Seen here: YARD (Your Augmented Reality Designer) app which enables homeowners to visualize pool designs in real time.
Augmented Reality is one of the emerging technologies Structure Studios has invested in – Seen here: YARD (Your Augmented Reality Designer) app which enables homeowners to visualize pool designs in real time.

Emerging technologies like Augmented Reality, Aerial 3D Mapping and Virtual Reality have found a home in the product. Structure Studios release of YARD (Your Augmented Reality Designer) a new add-on available for Vip3D customers is a testament to their investment in continuously improving the design platform.

Companies like Cody Pools, Anthony Sylvan, and Presidential Pools are already early adopters of this new technology. Wearable tech like the Oculus is also dramatically gaining traction with builders as a means to immerse potential buyers in the design and shorten the sales process.

Feature Photo Credit: Kyle Franco – Premier Pools & Spas

Editor in Chief of Pool Magazine - Joe Trusty is also CEO of PoolMarketing.com, the leading digital agency for the pool industry. An internet entrepreneur, software developer, author, and marketing professional with a long history in the pool industry. Joe oversees the writing and creative staff at Pool Magazine. To contact Joe Trusty email info@poolmagazine.com or call (916) 467-9118 during normal business hours. For submissions, please send your message to submissions@poolmagazine.com

Pool News

Custom Luxury Pools With Rising Star Lance Irby

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Lance Irby Pool Designer - Custom Luxury Pools

The world of luxury pools is a rigid dichotomy between design and function. For average homeowners it’s often difficult to achieve a balance between what’s appealing to the eye and what our wallets can afford. Quite often luxury homeowners tend to fall in love with what they’ve seen on Pinterest. During the dream building phase, money is no object. For some that holds true well into the building phase of turning that dream into a reality. No one is more familiar with helping homeowners capture their grand vision for a high-end custom luxury pool than Lance Irby, one of the lead designers for Premier Pools & Spas of Sacramento. Recently we had the chance to catch up with this rising star in the pool industry.

Luxury Pool Designer Lance Irby

Irby first got his start in the pool industry ironically enough when he bumped into Keith Harbeck, the owner of the Sacramento branch of Premier Pools & Spas. Harbeck was a member of the gym that Irby was a Sales Manager at the time. “He’d always whisper in my ear to come sell pools for him, I never took it too seriously.” said Irby.

Luxury Pool Designer Lance Irby takes us back to how he first got his start in the pool industry.

Irby had a background growing up around construction and doing landscaping in the summers. His focus in school was in design and architecture. After completing a four year internship with a local architecture firm working as a draftsman, Irby began to have a change of heart. As he embarked on establishing a family, he decided to take a leap of faith and reached back out to Harbeck to see what the pool industry had to offer.

“I had some design background, drafting background, construction background. I had skills that would translate well, but I had no idea that they would translate well to the pool industry.” said Irby, “If Keith hadn’t offered me the position and if my life circumstances hadn’t changed, I don’t know that I would have took the chance.”

In reflection Irby says the gamble to shift career paths towards the pool industry has paid off tremendously. “I can’t think of anything that fits me better.” said Irby, “I really enjoy what I do. It’s fulfilling and satisfying to feel like you’ve found something you’re going to do forever.”

Pool Industry Is The Perfect Fit

Irby who is entering his 9th year in the pool industry says that he’s found his niche. “Whatever life throws at me, I just feel like the pool industry is a great fit for my personality. It’s dynamic, it’s always different, it’s always changing. It’s creative and I love it.” said Irby.

Irby seems to have developed an affinity for desiging luxurious outdoor living environments and custom pools.

Irby certainly seems to have discovered a dormant and hidden talent for creating luxurious over the top backyard resorts. Like many other professionals in the pool industry looking to further and expand on their education, Irby has begun pursuing a path towards becoming SWD Registered with Genesis.

Seeking a Higher Path With Education

“It’s given me the ability to get outside of my comfort zone and become a better designer, a better builder.” explained Irby, “and focus on the aspects and core principles that Genesis teaches, to try and be better and raise my level of competence in the pool industry.”

Many builders, designers, and landscape architects credit programs like Genesis with helping them expand their accumen in the realm of high end luxury pools. Irby says that his entire team is now attending the course, crediting owner Keith Harbeck with investing in the educational pursuits of his sales team. Of course, if it helps them become better builders and leads to more luxury pool projects it’s obviously money well spent.

When discussing luxury pools, the definition for homeowners is as different and unique as the individual.

When discussing what constitutes a luxury pool the definition always varies. Irby said that as a top design consultant for high end custom pools, the vision for a luxury pool is very personal and unique to the homeowner.

What Constitutes a Luxury Pool?

“That’s not a black and white answer. I think what’s luxurious to one person, may not be to another. I think it has to be something that is very fulfilling to a client, that brings a level of satisfaction of elegance. It’s something they desired or are proud of, it’s a combination of probably all those things” said Irby.

Creating a luxury pool for a client does not have a minimum or maximum budget. There is no guidelines that say a pool needs to have certain features or amenities or cost a certain price in order to qualify as a custom luxury pool.

With custom luxury pools the sky is the limit in terms of customization options. Nothing is cookie cutter on these projects.

“Sometimes you would associate a luxury pool with something very high end or very expensive, but that doesn’t necessarily make it luxurious by my definitions or standards.” said Irby, explaining how the definition differs for the individual consumer. “Everybody has different tastes and styles,” said Irby, “and if you can hit the nail on the head perfectly for that client and can provide them exactly what they wanted and something they are proud of and in love with then I think you have created a luxury pool for a client.”

Unprecedented Demand for Luxury Pools

The push to create a luxury custom outdoor living environment has led to a tremendous increase in homeowners looking to build a swimming pool. Across the globe a trend has developed since 2020, but nowhere in the United States has this been more true than in states like Texas, Florida, and California. In Irby’s stomping grounds of Sacramento, a mass influx of new residents from the Bay Area have caused local home prices to sky rocket. The migration has also seen many well heeled homeowners with cash to invest in their backyards.

“People are looking for a nicer more complete product, with the total environment and a higher end look. They’re coming from equity strong positions and they’re able to put nicer backyards together or build luxury pools almost instantaneously – it’s not a big financing conversation or ‘I need to save up money for this type of project’.”

The design of a luxury pool must visually captivate and inspire – that is one prerequisite of defining a luxury custom pool.

In discussing what constitutes a high end luxury pool, one thing is clear. The design of the pool itself needs to be visually compelling. Irby explained how he works with homeowners to help them articulate their vision for the ultimate backyard.

“If it’s a design that’s high end, it needs to be exciting.” said Irby, “It can’t be something that’s redundant or cut and paste. You need to really take into account their needs. Listen to them alot, talk with them. Get to know them as a client. Find out why they want a pool, how that pool is going to change their life.” explained Irby; who goes above and beyond with his designs to help paint a complete portrait of what the overall end result of the backyard design will look like.

Hot New Design Trends For Custom Pools in 2021

We discussed some of the hot new design trends that homeowners are looking for in a luxury pool in 2021. Irby who is on the cutting edge of design gave us a list of some of the features homeowners are looking for in a luxury pool this summer.

“Definitely unique textures, wooden decks around pools. Large format tiles. Color and texture is something that is very popular. People are looking for alternatives for the decking solutions around pools.” explained Irby, “Fire and water always have a nice play off of each other. Those are very popular on high end projects. Water in motion and working with different elevations are also popular with customers these days.” continued Irby.

Fire features like sunken firepits and fire woks are incredibly popular pool trends in 2021 says Lance Irby.

Irby has established himself locally as an expert design consultant in custom luxury inground pools and frequently works with some of the leading home builders in the area. Recently boutique custom home builder Zak Mougharbel of Sheba Development LLC brought in Irby and Premier Pools & Spas to help them provide an incredible resort style luxury pool for a homeowner in Granite Bay, CA.

Showcased here this unique water shape comprises an incredible luxury pool with 180 degree panoramic views of the Sacramento skyline. A truly breathtaking and unique one of a kind pool concept that expertly combines elements of fire and water into the perfect marriage of both.

Fire features give a luxury pool style and sophistication that differentiate it from other residential inground pools.

A nod to Grand Effects for the incredible fire features that help accentuate the dramatic overall canvas of this masterpiece. The sunken firepit and fire woks are some truly high end amenities to incorporate into a luxury pool concept that make great use of different elevations.

This pool is a prime example of why Lance Irby is fast on his way towards establishing himself as a respected design consultant and one of the top pool designers to watch in the next few upcoming years.

If you’d like to learn even more about this pool project, listen to our complete interview with Lance Irby on the Pool Magazine podcast.

Video Credit: Jovan Valdez / Sarah Ramalho
Home Builder: Sheba Development LLC.
Pool Builder: Premier Pools & Spas Sacramento
Pool Designer: Lance Irby

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Pool Magazine adds Carol Anne Gigliotti as Director of Marketing / Sales

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Pool Magazine adds Carol Anne Gigliotti as it's Director of Sales / Marketing

Pool Magazine recently added pool industry veteran Carol Anne Gigliotti, previously of Luxury Pool + Outdoor Living as it’s Director of Marketing & Sales. We are happy to announce that Carol will be joining our growing team. Her incredible experience and expertise in the pool industry will be an invaluable asset to our organization.

Pool Magazine’s reach in the pool industry is substantial and is part of the Pool Marketing network of B2C and B2B web properties that are rapidly gaining traction. This strategic move to bring Carol into the fold, will capitalize on the expertise of a widely recognized industry veteran. Her previous experience in publishing will help guide the future endeavors of this publication.

We’ve been looking for a person of Carol’s caliber for quite some time. Her presence in this organization will be a game changer.

Pool MaGAZINE EDITOR – Joe Trusty

As we move forward with pushing PoolMagazine.com from a digital publication to a printed one, Carol will be at the helm driving much of the initial strategy, direction, and overall look and feel of our new publication. We look forward to her contributions in helping make this a world class magazine.

We plan to unveil and distribute the first issue of Pool Magazine at the International Pool & Spa Expo in Dallas – November 16-18, 2021. Our new Director of Marketing & Sales – Carol Anne Gigliotti will also be in attendance.

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Plus Pool Designer Discusses Floating Pool for East River

One on one with the Dong Ping Wong, designer of the Plus Pool. An in depth look at the project.

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Plus Pool - Interview With Dong Ping Wong - Designer of the Plus Pool Concept in the East River in New York City

We report on our fair share of unique pool concepts at Pool Magazine. None so far this year, with the exception of possibly the Sky Pool in London, has managed to capture people’s imagination the way this project has. Plus Pool is a unique floating pool concept design that is shaped like a plus sign (+). The project has been discussed for a long time. For the past few months photos have of the pool concept have begun circulating on social media once again. After years and years of pushback from the city, the Plus Pool project finally got the green light. The 285,000 gallon floating pool will have a permanent address in the East River.

The Plus Pool Design Team

The minimalist pool design is the brainchild of four designers. Dong-Ping Wong and Oana Stanescu of the architecture firm Family and Archie Lee Coates IV and Jeff Franklin of the design firm PlayLab. The group originally conceived of the idea for Plus Pool back in 2010.

The Plus Pool designers started a Kickstarter campaign to first generate interest.
The Plus Pool designers started a Kickstarter campaign to first generate interest. Photo Credit – CLAD

Wong, a New York state licensed architect with a Masters Degree in Architecture from Columbia University, first conceived of the project with his friends one hot summer night roughly ten years ago.

There has been a grass roots effort to get the Plus Pool approved for years.
There has been a grass roots effort to get the Plus Pool approved for years. Photo Credit – InHabitat

Pool Magazine had the chance to catch up with Dong Ping Wong, founder of the architectural firm FOOD New York and one of the lead designers behind the Plus Pool. We had a laundry list of questions for him from folks in the pool industry that wanted to know more about this project. Particularly, folks like Dave Penton of Ask The Masters, expressed interest in the filtration technology and how pool designers intend to safely filter a million gallons of water from the East River each day.

The four friends have been working on the Plus Pool concept for the better part of a decade.
The four friends have been working on the Plus Pool concept for the better part of a decade – Photo Credit: Bonobos

The floating pool concept is an Olympic sized pool at least in length explained Wong. The design is shaped like a plus which gave it the moniker “Plus Pool”.

Let’s Dive In: Plus Pool Fast Facts

  • Total Length & Width: 217 feet
  • Total Depth: 11′ to 6″
  • Total Area: 29,700 sqf
  • Pool Volume: 285,500 gallons
  • Pool Length: 164′ – 1 (Olympic)
  • Pool Width: 32′ – 8 (4 Lanes)
  • Pool Depth: 5′ to 0″
  • Max Capacity: 300 people
Wong and his team envision a natural body of water in the East River that will be clean enough to swim in.
Wong and his team envision a natural body of water in the East River that will be clean enough to swim in.

“Basically the whole idea is to find a way to swim in natural water around New York City,” said Wong, “In this case East River water, which as you would imagine is not what you would think of as the cleanest water. So how could we swim in that safely?” asked Wong, a question we wanted to know the answer to as well.

The space planned along New York City's East River will provide an instantly iconic backdrop for bathers.
The space planned along New York City’s East River will provide an instantly iconic backdrop for bathers.

The question itself has many skeptics wondering how designers plan to pull it off. Wong explained the basic premise behind what he plans to do. “In concept, the filtration system is a big strainer. Filtration is built into the walls of the pools. Water literally flows through the walls of the pool itself into the basin.” said Wong.

The Plus Pool's filtration system will act as a giant strainer filtering over a million gallons of East River water each day.
The Plus Pool’s filtration system will act as a giant strainer filtering over a million gallons of East River water each day.

“In normal operation we expect to filter over a million gallons of water a day, but in comparison to the entire volume of the East River it’s really a drop in the bucket.” continued Wong.

Plus Pool's use of natural water from the East River will require a world class filtration system.
Plus Pool’s use of natural water from the East River will require a world class filtration system.

Plus Pool Filtration

“The filtration is a combination of technologies we’ve already found in place for other uses,” said Wong, “Industrial water waste treatment, municipal uses. We’re not really cleaning it to drinking water standards. We don’t really need to. It’s a combination of textiles, ultra-filtration membranes, some very rudimentary filtration as well.” explained Wong.

“The basic idea of a Brita filter is that it filters water in stages from the largest materials down to the smallest and what you’re left with is a pretty clean piece of water you can swim in.” said Wong.

“Our biggest concern is bacteria.” explained Wong “There’s I forget how many numbers of different parameters we’re looking at. There’s bacteria counts, pH, oxygen levels, color… but bacteria is the main one. Obviously the reason being that the coliform count is what the Department of Health and the state looked at as the main measure of cleanliness of any body of water that you’re swimming in.” explained Wong.

“In New York state there’s something known as a ‘Bathing Beach’ which is a man made pool. There’s a coliform count that we try to get under. I believe it’s 35 cfu’s per hundred million for bathing beaches.” said Wong, as he explained the requirements his filtration system needs to meet in order to adhere to state health guidelines.

A Concept in Good Company

Wong’s concept for a floating barge style pool is unique in design but has been executed to some degree before. There are similar style concept floating pools such as the Badeschiff in Berlin, La Piscine Josephine Baker in Paris, and Islands Brygge Harbour Bath in Coppenhagen. It’s the ultrafiltration membrane system Wong plans to use that may be unique for a project of this scope and magnitude.

Badeschiff Pool - Floating Pool in Berlin Germany is a tourist destination
Floating pool concepts like the Badeschiff have the potential to become revenue generating tourist destinations year round and can be converted to other uses in the off-season. Plus Pool hopes to do something similar.

Studies have been conducted on whether ultrafiltration techniques are a viable means of containing coliform counts in pools with higher than average bather loads. Wong along with his team conducted a trial on a smaller scale prototype to see if they could achieve the desired results in terms of maintaining required water sanitization standards.

Wong envision the floating Plus Pool will mimic the flow rate of the river to constantly refresh the water supply.
Wong envisions the floating Plus Pool will mimic the flow rate of the river to constantly refresh the water supply.

This pool’s water source and guestimated bather count make the project a unique challenge in terms of keeping the swimming pool within the mandated requirements. Wong elaborated on how he plans to accomplish the daunting task of using water from the East River and making it safe enough to swim in.

“We’re moving water through a series of geotextiles.” said Wong, “It’s really just smaller and smaller pore sizes that you’re passively passing water through and essentially all that’s doing is capturing particles.”

How Ultrafiltration Membranes Work
How Ultrafiltration Membranes Work – Photo Credit: Synder Filtration

“The good thing is that bacteria tends to ride on larger particles so it’s actually fairly easy to capture in terms of water filtration. The other aspect is we’re doing this completely without chemicals and one of the reasons is to maintain the natural quality of the water. It’s also for the effect of not swimming in a chemically chlorinated environment.” explained Wong.

“We’re maintaining a flow rate within the pool that mimics any natural body of water. So that the body of water is constantly refreshed.” said Wong.

Typically, ultrafiltration captures fine solids, colloids, bacteria, and viruses through a sieve-like structure which does not allow solids larger than the pore diameter to pass through. The technology of microfiltration and ultrafiltration has been used in numerous industrial applications; a science Wong and his team are confident will work in terms of making the water quality suitable for bathers.

Initially, Wong and his associates were able to raise $41,000 through a Kickstarter campaign to test drive the filtration system they plan to use for the real life Plus Pool. The feasibility tests were conducted in conjunction with the help of fellow researchers from Columbia University.

Arup, an engineering firm, approached the team and offered to give resources. They studied water quality, structure configurations, energy utilization, site potentials, and the filtration system throughout the winter. By May 2011, they had determined that the idea was feasible.

“We’ve been doing a lot of health modeling to show that flow rate combined with our filtration system can keep the cleanliness of the water compared to chemically treated bodies of water.”

The Plus Pool team conducting water quality tests at Brooklyn Bridge Park.
The Plus Pool team conducting water quality tests at Brooklyn Bridge Park.

The Stigma of The East River

Wong’s plan seems solid given the current technology available. Perhaps it’s the reputation of the East River itself that has a bad rap. For decades in recent memory the East River was known as a polluted waterway that was unsuitable to swim in. However, in recent years, not only has the river become swimmable again, it’s actually the cleanest it’s ever been since the days of the Civil War.

Still, many New Yorkers themselves have trouble getting their mind past the stigma of swimming in the East River. Although it’s been twenty four years since the episode of Seinfeld first aired, folks still laugh at the notion of Kramer finding a new zest for life swimming in what was at the time still a very polluted East River.

There is still a lot of conflicting information pertaining to whether the East River is safe to swim in. In the days of a bygone era, the East River was once a very popular swimming hole for New York City locals.

A glance at the topic on Wikipedia flat out tells readers that the East River may be dangerous to swim in. Not particularly because a large percentage of the city’s sewage runoff winds up in the East River, but because strong tidal currents of up to 5 knots that can make swimming unadvisable for most recreational swimmers.

It’s impossible for many folks to ignore raw sewage and gloss over the ‘yuck’ factor associated with the idea of swimming amidst the city’s flotsam and jetsam. Although the biodiversity has come back incredibly, and you can fish and boat in the river – many still struggle with the notion of eating fish from the East River. In years past odds were good one could fish an old boot out of the river just as frequently as they would a bass.

Can you swim in the East River? Yes. Should you? Well, let's just say that the jury is still out.
Can you swim in the East River? Yes. Should you? Well, let’s just say that the jury is still out.
Photo Credit – Brooklyn Paper

The CSO (combined sewage overflow) annually accounts for roughly 26 billion gallons of raw sewage and polluted storm water discharging into New York Harbor via 460 combined sewage overflows throughout the city. Experts say that as little as a twentieth of an inch of rain can overflood the city’s antiquated sewage system and cause the CSO’s to kick in and begin dumping sewage into the river.

Those issues and the structural engineering challenges of stabilizing the pool are ones that we addressed with Wong. He and his team envision a safe space in the East River dedicated for recreational swimming. “During non-rainy times the water seems to be ‘cleanish’.” said Wong, however he agreed that during rainy times, the Enterococci levels of the water made it unsuitable for swimming.

Plus Pool Designer Dong Ping Wong conducted two small scale prototype tests thus far.
Plus Pool Designer Dong Ping Wong conducted two small scale prototype tests thus far.

Wong’s team has performed 2 in water tests to confirm the notion of whether they could use the filtration technology to keep the water clean. “The first one in 2013, we were just testing all these different textiles.” said Wong, “We built a tank and put it onto a pier in Brooklyn Bridge Park and pumped raw water though it just to see the effects of the filtration. It showed some promise but certainly at that point it wasn’t hitting the mark yet.”

“In 2015, we built ‘Float Lab’ a very small, very DIY version of Plus Pool. It allowed us to swap materials in and out and we sat it in the river and just kind of let it passively filter, and had an additional sort of mechanical system to pump through much more dense filtration material to see what the effects were.” said Wong. “That was the one where we said ‘We can actually clean this, we can actually hit consistent clean water quality levels we need to hit.'”

Dong Ping Wong conducting his water quality experiments in the East River.
Dong Ping Wong conducting his water quality experiments in the East River.

The East River may not be ready to swim in… yet. Backers like Heineken have sponsored the project and have faith that Wong and his associates can pull it off. During our conversation with Wong, we mentioned some other force factors such as strong tidal currents that could make this a particularly challenging endeavor from an engineering standpoint.

Heineken has sponsored the Plus Pool project with $100,000 towards getting the project off the ground.
Heineken has sponsored the Plus Pool project with $100,000 towards getting the project off the ground. Photo Credit – Seamus.co

Dong Ping Wong responded to questions regarding his plans to stabilize the structure for the choppy conditions. “One of the site constraints as we’re looking for sites was trying to find pockets along the East River where those currents were a little bit more mitigated. The location we’re looking at now is shielded by a pier structure to the north a little bit of the footing of the Manhattan bridge to the south.” explained Wong.

Wong explained some ways the team plans to stabilize the pool. “There is still a lot of current let alone wave action from boat traffic that passes up and down the river.” said Wong, “There’s 3 things we’re doing. One is just the size of the thing itself. It’s quite large and wide. That alone gives us some stability you find in larger barges. The second thing is how we anchor it. We’re using pre-tension anchors that can ride the currents and tides and weather those hundred year storms we anticipate. The third is and we’re still determining if we need this or not, but adding a layer of wave attenuation to the outside of the pool towards the center.” explained Wong.

Why The Plus Pool?

“We wanted a way so that people who are there for athletic reasons can swim. People who there just to hangout can get a suntan. People who are there swimming for the first time feel comfortable. So basically like 4 pools kind of stuck together in one, that’s the idea,” said Wong “There’s a lap pool, and a sports pool, a lounge pool and a kids pool.” explained Wong as he broke down the various quadrants of the intended design concept.

The Plus Pool concept has 4 separate unique quadrants planned for various types of bathers and swimmers.
The Plus Pool concept has 4 separate unique quadrants planned for various types of bathers and swimmers.

The second reason for the Plus Pool said Wong “I knew that we needed something that looked different. That looked iconic. That looked striking when you saw it in an image, saw it overhead and for the first time. I think it’s very exciting to do a pool in the East River that filters water but we also knew it needed to look incredible, like something you’ve never seen before. The plus gave us that, the shape gave us that.” continued Wong.

The Plus Pool project design concept has captured the imaginations of the general public and the pool industry.
The Plus Pool project design concept has captured the imaginations of the general public and the pool industry.

Wong and his associates have been trying to get this project approved for over a decade. The concept has been written about and discussed practically since it’s inception. There has never been a fizzling off point in interest. To be clear, New Yorkers want this pool, and it is evident by the number of independent backers and supporters the project has drawn.

This latest surge on social media and the news comes on the tail end of the project finally getting the green light for approval from the city. It’s a great sign that the project will go ahead as planned, but we asked Wong why this project has taken so long to get off the ground.

Plus Pool Lighting Up At Night in East River
Plus Pool Lighting Up At Night in East River

“It’s just something that’s never been done before,” said Wong, “Here or elsewhere. You know there’s obviously floating pools. There’s natural pools, but I don’t think there’s ever been one at this scale and one that’s filtering the water the way that we are for public use.”

“Additionally, I think as amazing as New York City is, it’s not the easiest place in the world to do innovative public work because it’s a very large city and legally very complicated.” continued Wong, “There’s definitions for good reason, on what a pool is and what a beach is. There is not a definition for what our thing is, which is sort of a combination of the two.”

Wong and his team definitely hit the nail on the head in that regard. The Plus Pool design concept has been shared all over the world and has been written about everywhere from CNN to Architectural Digest. People everywhere are eagerly anticipating the project.

Dong Ping Wong said that he’s open to a Q&A from the pool industry. If you’d like to learn more about how the actual nuts and bolts work, feel free to ask your questions in the comments.

Want to make an impact and contribute to the project? Buy a Pool Tile and donate to the Plus Pool concept.

Listen to the entire interview with Dong Ping Wong on the Pool Magazine Podcast

Featured Photo Credit, Interior Photos / Design Renderings: Plus Pool

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