Total Transparency

Glass-and acrylic-walled pools play Houdini on the eyes.

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Designers of swimming pools that have glass or acrylic walls are taking the concept of the infinity edge to the max, creating countless cutting-edge styles that rely upon the art of transparent illusion.

Called open-top windows, these pools appear to disappear into the landscape and serve as human aquariums that are just as engaging for spectators as the swimmers inside them.

Although they are being created for a variety of purely pragmatic reasons – they do, for example, act as skylights in interior spaces and allow coaches and physical therapists to follow the progress of their charges – it is the “wow” fact that has led to their recent popularity among luxury property owners.


The small backyard space at the condo in Dorado, Puerto Rico was used to maximum advantage; the 10-foot by 10-foot acrylic-walled pool opens up the area.


It was at his client’s behest that architect José Fernando Vázquez recently created a transparent pool for a first-floor condo unit in the Ritz-Carlton Reserve at the Dorado Beach Resort in Dorado, Puerto Rico.

“He didn’t want the pool to look like all the others in the complex,” says Vázquez, founder of the firm hacedor:maker/arquitectos that is based in San Juan. “He referenced the pool at the Mall of San Juan, whose elongated S-shaped fountain has acrylic walls.”


The acrylic-walled pool in the Dorado, Puerto Rico condo provides a calming, cooling accent on the back patio.


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, tying it to the landscape beyond.

“The transparent side of the pool 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.”


At night, the acrylic-walled pool in the back yard of the Dorado, Puerto Rico condo unit becomes a magic lantern that illuminates the space.


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.”


The straight-through shotgun-style condo unit in Dorado, Puerto Rico allows the pool to be seen from the front door.


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 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 transferred to a crane for delivery to the homeowner’s property.


The acrylic-walled pool in Dorado, Puerto Rico comes into its own at dusk.


“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.

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 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

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