It’s more than 200 tons of luxury, a transparent “floating” swimming pool between two buildings overlooking the U.S. Embassy in London, and beyond that, the River Thames.
The Embassy Garden’s Sky Pool is the first of its kind, and while its look is high-end and urban, it was actually made 5,000 miles away from its current home.
MANUFACTURED IN GRAND JUNCTION
The Sky Pool was manufactured at Reynolds Polymer Technology Inc. right here in Grand Junction, with the Colorado River flowing not far off and the Bookcliffs overlooking the pool as it took shape outside when it got too big for the factory cranes.
There were moments when those working on the Sky Pool project thought it was never going to be finished, said Paul O. Gardner, vice president of engineering, quality and safety at Reynolds Polymer.
The Grand Junction company became involved in the Sky Pool project in August of 2014, when international developer EcoWorld Ballymore Group and the engineering firm Eckersley O’Callaghan began considering acrylic to make the pool a reality.
“They started looking for who could help, and they came to us pretty quickly,” Gardner said.
Reynolds Polymer is known internationally for its expertise and experience with acrylic and creating large and unique aquariums, pools and more. But this project had its own challenges.
Among those were the size and design of the pool. It was to be 82 feet in length, most of that without support from below so people swimming in the pool could look down 115 feet to the street and those on the street could look straight up into the pool with nothing obstructing their view.
Reynolds Polymer decided to take on the project, getting a design contract in 2017 and starting to cast panels by the end of that year, Gardner said.
The floor of the pool is made of seven, 14-inch-thick solid acrylic panels, and the sides are 7-inch solid panels. The corners were fully machined to just the right thickness, he said.
By the end of 2018, the pool was too big for Reynolds Polymer’s factory cranes, so it had to be moved outside. The company even had to create a unique milling machine to use outside that would run up and down the floor of the pool.
“It’s like a small refrigerator, I guess, on tracks,” Gardner said.
By the time the pool was done in August of 2020, nearly 80 people and everyone on the factory floor had touched that pool one way or another, he said.
They calculated that if one person had done all the sanding and polishing work, that alone would have taken well over a year, Gardner said.
The pool was ready to ship, but that also presented challenges.
The Sky Pool’s width is about 17½ feet and even wider when wrapped for transport. The standard width of a highway lane is 12 feet, and other roads can be narrower at 10–11 feet.
It was a wide, wide load, weighing in at 122,000 pounds.
As the trailer carrying the pool moved out onto Patterson Road, it scraped the ground.
“It left its mark,” Gardner said with a laugh.
One of the engineers on the project was working from his Redlands home because of the pandemic and used his telescope to see the Sky Pool on its way out of Grand Junction.
“He sent us a picture from his telescope,” Gardner said.
Gardner wasn’t sure where the semi got onto the interstate, heading west. The big wildfires burning at that time in western Colorado had closed off the routes originally planned for getting the pool to port in Houston, so they had to reroute into Utah on Interstate 70, then down through Monticello on U.S. Highway 191.
A HURRICANE HOLDING PATTERN
At the Texas border, the semitrailer was stopped as Hurricane Laura wreaked havoc, turning east of Houston before storming into Louisiana.
With police escorts, road closures and some night travel to avoid traffic, the Sky Pool finally made it to Houston and was loaded onto a ship.
It took about three weeks for it to cross the Atlantic Ocean, making several stops along the way and arriving in London in September, Gardner said.
From the ship, the pool was loaded onto a barge that took it up the Thames River, and then it was lifted by a crane onto another truck that moved it about a mile to Embassy Gardens, the residential buildings in southwest London’s Nine Elms neighborhood that would be its new home.
Along the way, there were signs and traffic lights that had be temporarily taken down to allow the pool to pass through.
Despite the pandemic, Reynolds Polymer was able to get some of its team to London, quarantining and following required protocols so they could be at the installation and beyond, Gardner said.
On one nerve-wracking day, a crane picked up the pool, lifted it 10 stories and inched it into place.
“It is a very tight space that they’re fitting into,” Gardner said. “You have two inches on either side that you have to fit it in.”
The pool “floats” on some bearings that sit on concrete columns, he said. It fits into two steel tubs on either end, where the filtration system and pool stairs can be found.
The project engineers had to account for any movement — wind or settling — of the two buildings the pool spans. They also had to account for how acrylic, which is a like a “living, breathing material,” changes depending on temperature, he said.
“I was the first one to walk across it,” Gardner said. It was November and the pool was full of water, so he wore waders.
Later, he was able to go for a swim, but the scaffolding was still in place and blocking sight of London.
The Sky Pool opened in May to Embassy Gardens residents and their guests — it’s in a neighborhood where residences sell for more than $1 million.
With 80-degree water and views that put depth perception to the test, it’s “not the first challenging, unique thing that we’ve done, but it was unique in its own way,” Gardner said.
The average amount of time Reynolds Polymer spends on an aquarium or pool project is about three or four years, and this went well beyond that, he said.
“It’s a testimony that if you stick it out and don’t give up, you can accomplish something difficult,” said Gardner, who didn’t know the final dollar the project cost EcoWorld Ballymore.
“I’m sure others will want something like it, and we’ll get inquiries, and we’ll think long and hard about if we’ll do another one,” he said.