Taking their cues from nature, designers are creating glass- and acrylic-walled swimming pools that seamlessly blend indoor and outdoor spaces.
These so-called “human aquariums,” with their underwater windows, offer a new visual experience for swimmers as well as entertainment for out-of-the-water spectators.
Regardless of whether they serve as skylights in interior spaces, training tanks for swimmers, therapy rooms for hydrotherapy patients or even status symbols for homeowners, they are designed to delight.
Architect José Fernando Vázquez, founder of the firm hacedor:maker/arquitectos based in San Juan, Puerto Rico, says that they also are designed to make an unforgettable architectural statement, particularly on oceanfront and beachfront properties.
In a condo in Dorado, Puerto Rico, an acrylic-walled pool breathes life into a small back yard.
Vázquez recently created a transparent pool for the owner of a first-floor condo unit in the Ritz-Carlton Reserve at the Dorado Beach Resort off the Atlantic Ocean in Dorado, Puerto Rico.
“He didn’t want the pool to look like all the others in the complex,” says Vázquez. “He referenced the pool at the Mall of San Juan, whose elongated S-shaped fountain has acrylic walls.”
The imaginative idea proved ideal because the condo’s straight-through shotgun style makes the pool a highly visible focal point from the front door, bringing the idea of an ocean view inside.
“The transparent side faces the home,” he says. “So from inside you can see the sunlight and dusk light reflected in the pool, which is equipped with an LED system of colored lights that makes it look like a lantern in the evening.”
A transparent pool connects the world inside and outside of the pool perimeters in Dorado, Puerto Rico.
Acrylic walls aside, the project presented a number of engineering and design challenges.
“The space was small so there wasn’t much room for mechanicals,” Vázquez says. “And the unit was over a parking lot so there were weight restrictions.”
Vázquez, who early in his career had created an acrylic-walled pool for a rooftop apartment in New York City, came up with a design for a 10-foot-square pool that is three feet deep and commissioned Diamond Spas in Frederick, Colorado, to build it.
“There are not many companies that specialize in these kinds of pools,” he says. “I went with Diamond Spas because one of my colleagues had done a project with them and recommended them. And they had ample references and samples of their previous work.”
At night, the acrylic-walled pool in Dorado, Puerto Rico becomes a magic lantern that illuminates the space.
The fabrication of the custom pool, whose high-strength, high-UV-resistant acrylic panels Diamond Spas sourced from a marine aquarium maker, took about six months.
“We didn’t want a metallic joint, and Diamond Spas had never done an L-shaped acrylic one, so there was a big amount of energy on both sides that was impressive,” he says. “I liked the fact that they had the gravitas and the wherewithal to do things that had not been done before.”
The coordination between Diamond Spas and hacedor:maker/arquitectos was key to the project’s success.
“It was like building a large-scale Swiss watch at different sites,” Vázquez says. “All the gears had to work together and fit together.”
The straight-through shotgun-style condo unit in Dorado, Puerto Rico, turns the acrylic-walled pool into a design element visible all the way from the front door.
The collaboration produced a creative solution for the economical storage of the mechanicals: They are installed under the wooden deck, which pulls out in sections like bureau drawers for access.
When it was complete, Diamond Spas shipped the pool in a container to San Juan, where it was put on an open-platform truck and driven to the condo then delivered by crane to the homeowner’s property.
“We had to take the crane through the resort’s golf course,” Vázquez says. “We tried to wait for a dry day because we didn’t want the crane sinking in the mud. But it always rains here, so we had a close call.”
On the other side of the country, on a larger scale, Marshall Foote, a partner/general manager of Colorado Pool + Spa Scapes in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, is working with Diamond Spas to create a 9.5-foot-wide, 75-foot-long, infinity-edge lap pool and hot tub for a new-construction ski-in/ski-out residence in Vail, Colorado.
At dusk, the acrylic-walled pool turns into a lantern that illuminates the property in Dorado, Puerto Rico.
Diamond Spas created the custom stainless steel vessel, which features an acrylic panel to divide the pool from the hot tub, an acrylic panel at the end of the pooland another two acrylic panels on the bottom.
“It’s on the second floor of the five-floor house for easy access from below and above and is supported by steel stilts,” he says. “You can watch people swim above your head when you are sitting on the lower patio.”
Foote, who has worked with the Diamond Spas staff members on many projects through the years, says they are team players.
“We don’t do standard pools,” he says. “The great thing about Diamond Spas is that whatever idea I suggestthey are willing to say, ‘Let’s do it.’”
Foote is looking forward to working with Diamond Spas to push transparent pools to the next design level.
“Five years ago, I wasn’t building any,” he says. “Now, I can count on doing at least one every year.”
Photos by José Fernandez Vázquez