In the 1968 film The Swimmer (based on a John Cheever short story), Burt Lancaster tries to swim his way across his Connecticut neighbourhood through the pools of its suburban backyards.
It is a brilliant conceit which posits the pool as the ultimate aspirational accessory of the American lifestyle but one from which meaning can drain away as quickly as water from a pool in winter. As Raymond Chandler said: “There’s nothing emptier than an empty swimming pool.”
If the Swimmer tried swimming between aspirational real estate today, he would probably need a helicopter. The latest wheeze is a speculative “360 degree infinity pool” atop an as yet unconfirmed London skyscraper.
Images of this unlikely project flashed across the internet in June, giving its instigator, Compass Pools, a shot of pure PR exposure as websites and social media lapped up the ridiculous rendering.
It is ridiculous because here was a pool taking up the entire top of a tower. How would you get into it? The puff included some blather about a submarine and a rotating spiral staircase, but it does not matter: I do not think it will get built (although Compass Pools says construction could start next year).
The same goes for the pool replacing the burnt-out roof of a restored Notre-Dame, an image of which has electrified social media.
In 2015, it was the image of a glass-bottomed Sky Pool connecting two buildings in the unlikely setting of south London’s Nine Elms that was firing up the web: clickbait architecture, a deliberate provocation designed to manufacture marketing.
If London and Paris seem unlikely sites for all these outdoor pools, you might try a trip to Honolulu. Here, one, at the Anaha building, actually got built, a glass stub cantilevering out of a bulging tower over-designed by Chicago-based architects Solomon Cordwell Buenz in collaboration with Hawaiian firm Benjamin Woo Architects.
A similarly stubby pool protuberance sticks out of the Market Square Tower in Houston, designed by Jackson Ryan Architects, from which you can look down on the rooftop car parks.
Texas too warm? You could get goosebumps just looking at the Sky Pool designed by Noa* Network of Architecture for the Hotel Hubertus in the Dolomites.
The glass-bottomed pool is the epitome of a certain kind of exhibitionism. A backyard swimming pool is a local signifier, a status symbol certainly, one for the barbecue guests and grandchildren to enjoy, but mostly a private place.
A glass-bottomed pool suspended over the street is of a different order; it is a gesture at the people below, working, going about their business. They look like ants from above.
As Orson Welles’ Harry Lime says, looking down from the Vienna Prater Ferris wheel in The Third Man at the people below: “Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving for ever?”
This is where clickbait collides with an architecture of uncaring, literally looking down on the man in the street.
Photographs: Imdb; Alex Filz