Dezeen Magazine

plus pool new york city

Architect Dong-Ping Wong claims he was "frozen out" of + Pool project in New York

New York architect Dong-Ping Wong, who came up with the idea for a floating, cross-shaped swimming pool proposed for New York City, claims that he has been "frozen out" of the project.

Wong made the claim in a post on Instagram, which addressed the recent news that the + Pool project has been granted $16 million to advance.

In the post, Wong also expressed concern that his original civic vision for the project had been lost, claiming that "the ideals that grounded the project slowly gave way to interests that prioritized money, exposing the project to the levers of gentrification".

Wong, now director of New York-based practice Food Architects, led the design of + Pool under defunct studio Family along with PlayLab Inc co-founders Archie Lee Coates IV and Jeff Franklin and architect Oana Stănescu when it "was launched as a lark" in 2010.

The floating pool, which will reportedly filter up to 1,000,000 gallons of river water a day without the use of chemicals, was designed to float in the waterways of New York City to provide publicly accessible swimming.

"The goal wasn't to just build a pool"

"When I started + Pool, the goal wasn't to just build a pool," said Wong in his post. "The goal was to see if it was possible to make big civic changes to the city from the ground up for places that often get overlooked."

Since the project's launch, it has faced a series of starts and stops, as both its now-patented technology and design faced approval from municipal, commercial and environmental organizations.

In 2015, the 501c3 non-profit Friends of + Pool was formed to be the organising body of the project.

"When we decided to start a non-profit in 2015, it was based on the ideal that a non-profit would protect the project from private interest and ensure it remained a project for everyone," Wong said in his post.

"I was never invited back to a board meeting"

Since 2022, Wong claims that he began to be "frozen" out of the project after he raised internal concerns about what he describes as the "long-standing lack of diversity of the + Pool board".

"These issues were repeatedly dismissed, I was frozen out of the project," he wrote on Instagram.

plus pool
+ Pool designer says he was frozen out of the project due to raising concerns around diversity

"I wrote to the board in 2021 that we should establish a clear position on race and discrimination as an organization," Wong told Dezeen.

"About a year later, I joined a board meeting and listened as the board discussed a DEI statement that they were preparing. In the statement, the only actionable item was to take an annual survey of the number of people of colour involved in the project," he continued.

"I asked whether there was more being done and they said no. After that board meeting, which was in April 2022, I was never invited back to a board meeting, design or engineering meeting, gala or fundraising event or any internal discussions."

Record on accessibility "speaks for itself" says + Pool

Friends of + Pool disputes Wong's account.

In response to Wong's Instagram post, the non-profit told Dezeen that Wong had decided not to be involved in the progression of the organisation but rather to centre his work on the architecture of  + Pool. The organisation also claimed that Wong continues to be invited to all events and activities.

"+ Pool's record on swim education and swim accessibility for communities of colour speaks for itself," managing director of Friends of + Pool Kara Meyer told Dezeen.

"Friends of + Pool has made DEI a major priority in its policies and programs, which is why it was a centrepiece of both the Governor and the Mayor's announcements at the Jan 5 press conference."

None of the project's founders sit on the board, according to the non-profit, although it said that they continue to have a voice in making recommendations.

The other co-founders told Dezeen that they felt the project was still aligned with its original intent.

"We are proud of how the non-profit is fulfilling our original vision," co-founders Coates IV, Franklin and Stănescu told Dezeen in a joint statement.

"In fact, it's gone beyond what any of us imagined. This should be a moment of collective celebration and is when the work truly begins."

Funding approval "bittersweet"

A location for + Pool has also been disputed. In 2021, ​​New York's Economic Development Corporation confirmed a provisional site for the project north of the Manhattan Bridge, although Friends of + Pool told Dezeen that a final site has yet to be chosen by the government.

The provisional location sits between Wong's residence and the Food Architects office in New York City's Chinatown neighbourhood. While + Pool was "never originally intended to come to Chinatown" according to the designer, its proposed location further cemented a personal connection to the project for Wong.

"I'm Chinese-American, and we've had the office in Chinatown for seven or eight years, depending on where you count the borders of Chinatown," he told Dezeen.

"I felt like I could speak to and about the project and its relationship to underserved communities in a way that was much more personal and specific than I could before it was located here."

Wong called the recent $16 million of funds approved for the project "bittersweet" on Instagram.

"With + Pool closer to reality, I worry about how the leadership will treat the neighbourhood's long-standing communities – the majority of whom are people of colour and lower income," he wrote.

"I'm concerned about what concession to access might be made in the service of commercial interest and about what agreements with predatory developers might be taking place without my knowledge."

Friends of + Pool recently announced the $16 million will be used to create a 2,000-square-foot (185 square metres) version of + Pool to be built for testing come summer 2024, with plans to open it to swimmers in 2025. Original versions of the project held that the modular pool could reach up to 9,000 square feet (836 square metres).

According to the team, it will also serve as a pilot project for + Pool's design and technology to be used throughout New York state.

The images are courtesy Friends of + Pool.