The idea of swimming hundreds of feet in the air might not appeal to everyone but in recent years and thanks to advances in engineering and increasingly demanding consumers, balcony pools are proliferating in luxury buildings.
In Miami, 116 units at the Porsche Tower will have a private swimming pool, each positioned on the terrace with a panoramic ocean view. In Mumbai, the Bandra Ohm building, designed by Hong Kong-based James Law Cybertecture will include about 100 units with crescent-shaped pools overlooking the ocean. And in the Bahamas, the BIG-designed Honeycomb building will include 34 private pools sunken into terraces.
The blurring of indoor and outdoor living spaces is not new, and many urban condominium projects already feature expansive outdoor terraces and rooftop kitchens, the type of spaces typically found in single-family homes. Private pools appear to be the latest frontier.
New international projects have been making headlines for their high-tech balcony pool designs, but developers in Asia have been incorporating pools into condo towers for much of the last decade. In 2005, Bangkok developers Le Raffine completed Sukhumvit 24, a 30-storey tower that has 54 units, many of them duplexes and each with a private plunge pool. The OneKL building in Kuala Lumpur was completed in 2009 and famously boasts “94 Apartments, 95 Swimming Pools”. The 35-storey condominium tower, designed by Singapore’s SCDA architects, set a new benchmark for luxury living in Malaysia when it launched, offering high-tech features such as lifts with fingerprinted access, built-in Miele kitchens and three-bedroom duplexes each with a private swimming pool.
Soo K Chan, founder and lead architect at SCDA has also begun exporting balcony pools outside of the region, as far away as Manhattan, where until recently the concept was untried. Soori High Line is the architect’s first project in the U.S. and is located in West Chelsea overlooking New York’s High Line Park. The building includes 27 units designed with 18-foot ceilings, limestone floors and a palette of woods and luxurious finishes and fixtures from Poliform, Miele and Boffi. On the ground floor, the units back into private courtyards. Further up in the building, some units include heated indoor/outdoor pools. These run from the master suite along the living areas to overlook 29th street and the neighbouring High Line. There will also be triplex penthouses on the uppermost floors, each with a rooftop pool. Three units have been released with prices ranging from $3.7 million to $10.995 million
While some New Yorkers have struggled to understand the concept of a pool in the living room, for Chan, the feature is not a flamboyant building appendage; it is part of how he creates porosity in his designs. Chan is known for displacing apartment units along the building grid creating open spaces and cross-ventilation and turning these voids into sky gardens or lap pools—at the Marq in Singapore, cantilevered 15-meter pools project from the building’s glass façade; at OneKL in Malaysia, large double-volume apartment units feature adjoining terraces and pools and six-meter-high ceilings, which allow maximum natural lighting and cross ventilation.
In Manhattan, the boundaries between indoor and outdoor spaces are more defined, but with Soori High Line, Chan aimed to change this. “I want to bring to New York the concept of the transitioning of spaces, the space between indoors and outdoors,” he says. New York’s climate is not as balmy as that of Southeast Asia, but the pools are climatically controlled with a central boiler heater and there is a heat exchange, so the water temperature is maintained at 84˚F (29.9˚C).
Mexico-city based architecture firm DCPP Arquitectos, which is designing Sky Condos in Lima, Peru, a project with 10 duplexes and cantilevered pools emphasises the importance of outdoor living spaces for urban dwellers. “We believe that an apartment shouldn’t lack exterior spaces,” the architects say. “This is why our main space in each apartment is the exterior public area which contains the pool and a series of terraces that bring dynamism to the whole tower.”
But the futuristic appearance of balcony pools still puts them in the headlines, particularly the more brazen designs. When James Law of James Law Cybertecture unveiled his plans for the Bandra Ohm in Mumbai, 1.2 million hits on his website crashed its servers. According to Law, the 140-meter ohm-shaped building takes its inspiration from water. “The design concept of the tower is inspired by the ripple effect generated by water droplets, which is also known as the capillary wave,” the architect says. In the building design, this ripple effect is created via a continuous shifting of infinity edged pools of each unit.
Although developers have been emboldened by engineering and design advances such as 3D structural analysis, lightweight materials and waterproofing technology, constructing an elevated pool, especially one over a liveable area, remains a challenge. Water is heavy and the building must be able to support the extra load. A single cubic foot of water contains 28.3 liters and weighs more than 28 kilograms. The water in a standard lap pool—75 feet long, 15 feet wide and four feet deep—weighs nearly 127,000 kilograms, and a building such as OneKL carries approximately 2,500m³ of water across its 95 swimming pools.
Pools must also be designed to evenly transfer the weight of the water to the supporting walls and columns. At Soori High Line in Manhattan, the pools are cast as part of the continuous floor slab. For the Sky Condos in Lima, architects say walls that run parallel to the main structure will balance the weight of the water. Leakage is also a concern. In backyards, pools are often made of concrete, but the material is prone to cracking and not suitable for balconies. To counteract the risks of leakage, some architects use waterproof concrete to ensure tightness, others choose stainless steel pools, as these are lightweight and easy to assemble. Cutting-edge ceramics and carbon-fibre composite technology from the aerospace and motor sports industries are also sneaking into some pool designs.
The balconies at Bandra Ohm are enclosed in acrylic, the material used in aquariums. At the Porsche Tower in Miami, Italian company Piscine Castiglione is building prefab pools using Myrtha® technology, a modular system of stainless steel panels laminated with a layer of high strength PVC. The technology has several advantages, including durability and minimal maintenance requirements, but the design flexibility is particularly suited to balconies that cannot accommodate standard pool dimensions.
However, cutting edge pools come at a price. The pools at the Porsche Tower, which include Jacuzzi bubbles and a hydro-massage bench are costing the developer $100,000 each. Plus the extra steel and concrete needed to hold the weight, as well as supply lines that between floors make the pool portion of the Porsche Tower cost about $18 million, says Gil Dezer, the tower’s developer. The residences are on the market for $6.3 million to $32.5 million. The pools are only part of the amenity package at the Porsche Tower. The building also includes glass car elevators that allow residents to remain in their cars on the way up to their apartments.
The added cost of pools does not appear to be impeding developers or buyers at the top end of the market. Christopher Anand, senior managing director of the Tavistock Group, which is developing Honeycomb, a new project in the Bahamas where each of the 34 units has a 70sf pool says the pools are an attractive amenity “that we have seen as a huge selling point.” Honeycomb’s sales launched in September 2014 and the building is 50 per cent sold.
Honeycomb architect Bjarke Ingels designed the building with a hexagonal-patterned façade that also functionally supports the pools, making them sink into the terrace floor. The thick beams that helped create the exterior motif will support the weight of the water—about five metric tons per pool, Ingels says. The design also maximises privacy for residents while still affording them marina and ocean views. The condominiums at Honeycomb range from 2,500sf to 5,800sf and are priced from $3.5 million to $15 million.
Still not everyone buys the idea of a balcony pool. Some real-estate agents and developers question the idea of absorbing an additional 20 per cent for a high rise where the functionality of pools are limited and meant more for wading. Others remain unconvinced of their safety. For Soo K Chan, who is seasoned at creating luxurious living spaces, private pools are simply another part of today’s luxury residential package. “It functions as an amenity of the higher end market,” he says.
On the market
Soori High Line
Design: SCDA Architects
Location: Manhattan, New York, US
Number of units: 27
Number of balcony pools: 16
Pool size: 23 to 26 feet long, 7 to 9 feet wide, 4 feet deep
Average price: $3,047 psf
Porsche Design Tower
Location: Miami, Florida, US
Design: Porsche Design Group
Number of units: 132
Number of balcony pools: 116
Pool size: 10 by 15 feet
Price: $6.3 million to $32.5 million
Location: Mumbai, India
Design: James Law Cybertecture
Number of units: 100
Number of balcony pools: 100
Pool material: High-strength acrylic
Location: Bahamas, North America
Design: Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG)
Number of units: 34
Number of pools: 34
Pool size: 70sf
Price: $3.5 million to $15 million
Text by Sophie Kalkreuth
This article was originally published in PALACE Magazine