+ POOL is turning the East River into the world’s first Smart River with + POOL Light, a new public art installation designed by PLAYLAB, INC. and Family New York. The sculpture will float in the East River and illuminate the real-time physical conditions of the water in an effort to engage the public more deeply in New York City’s water quality issues.

Installed at the Seaport District off Pier 17 in Lower Manhattan, the plus-shaped + POOL Light measures 50 x 50 feet, is constructed of LEDs, and will float in the river as it continuously changes in color based on the condition of water, indicating when it’s great, or not so great for swimming. Designers PLAYLAB, INC. and Family New York worked with scientists at Columbia University’s Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO) to create an algorithm to power the lights by predicting swimmable water computed based on environmental conditions and data pulled from sensors placed in the East River at Pier 17. Data is collected and then sent to a new online dashboard developed in partnership with Reaktor. The public dashboard explains the science behind the changing lights and tracks water quality parameters that impact swimmer experiences, such as temperature, turbidity, and salinity.

The project is commissioned by Friends of + POOL, the nonprofit behind the effort to build a water-filtering, floating swimming pool. The innovative design filters river water through the walls and discharges swimmable water into the pool, restoring more than 1,000,000 gallons of filtered water a day back into the river. “The design recognizes the “+” sign as a symbol of positivity, indicating the positive steps we have taken to improve water quality since the Clean Water Act of 1972. Conceptually it is also a symbol of inclusivity in that the water that surrounds us belongs to no one single group, but to everyone.” says Jeff Franklin, designer of + POOL Light and Partner at PLAYLAB, INC. “Water quality data is incredibly complex, so access to data means very little to everyday people. We wanted to figure out a way to empower people with the data and engage them visually with what is happening in the water in front of them,” says Kara Meyer, Managing Director of Friends of + POOL.

“New York’s maritime heritage and Lower Manhattan waterfront are invaluable assets that make the Seaport District such an important part of our city,” said Saul Scherl, President of the New York Tri-State Region at The Howard Hughes Corporation. “The + POOL installation provides an unprecedented, data-driven opportunity to creatively bring attention to waterfront issues that impact all New Yorkers.”

The LED sculpture glows teal when pathogens are present in the water and predictive Enterococci levels are safe for swimming. It turns to pink when those levels exceed swimming standards. The sculpture also animates, changing its direction based on the flow of current (clockwise when flowing north, counterclockwise when flowing south). The brightness, frequency, and sharpness of the lights is reflected in oxygen, turbidity, and pH, respectively.

“Since its founding, Friends of + POOL has surveyed public perception of the rivers around NYC through community events, panel discussions, lectures, in-school education, and social media; and has polled various New Yorkers (as evident it the Tribeca Studios film, Floating and Idea: The + POOL Story ) to understand current perceptions of the water bodies around NYC. We’ve found that many New Yorkers have a negative perception of the rivers around NYC, so much so that we tend to forget about our waterways, not taking them into consideration when it comes to considering possible lifestyles. A major goal is to physically demonstrate to New Yorkers that the water is not as bad as people might think a majority of the time, and when it is, to explain what is happening. Understanding the waterways is the first step in reclaiming them, for us as much as for future generations,” says + POOL Light designer, Oana Stanescu, partner at Family.

+ POOL Light will be on display through January 4, 2020. Events and engagements will be announced on + POOL’s website.

Next, check out The Top 10 Secrets of the East River, NYC and 14 New Public Art Installations to Discover in NYC October 2019