From suspended waterways to steamy heart-shaped pools
“There’s something about being enveloped in water, especially deep water, that’s super powerful and grounding for me,” says Jessica Lee McClusky, the founder of @alternatepools, the Instagram account dedicated to sharing unexpected swimming spaces worldwide. Heart-shaped hot tubs, swanky high-rise apartment blocks with water-filled balconies, and the futuristic and hyper-modern designs of Takei Nabeshima all make an appearance. “It’s a natural antidepressant. Once I was able to tap into that I became kind of obsessed with both swimming and pools. I definitely prefer swimming in natural swimming spots – rivers, streams, lakes, oceans – but I’ll take what I can get.”
Describing herself as a “Mexican-American queer Tejana”, McClusky is currently based in Philadelphia. Born in Houston, and raised an hour outside of Austin in Hill Country, her childhood was spent outdoors. “Growing up in the Hill Country meant there was little to do except climb trees, build forts, and make stuff. It’s a really magical place with some of the most beautiful places to swim. The heat in Texas in the summer is totally oppressive, so all you want to do is go swimming.” McClusky left Texas – uninspired by its conservative politics – ten years ago when she moved to Vermont for college. “Philly is cool, tons of great food, art, parties and music, which all remind me of Austin. It’s also hot and humid here so I’m constantly trying to swim and there are about 73 public pools here – which is amazing! I adore them all.”
Sat on the beach one day, McClusky decided to scour Instagram for unusual swimming spots, but couldn’t find an account dedicated to such spaces. “Of course, there are accounts that show people travelling around, photographed in luxury pools. But there was nothing that was just about the pools,” she recalls. “I’ve joked that my reason for starting @alternatepools is to become a pool designer or to get people to pay me to swim in their pools… I’d love to do either, but it’s mostly just a hobby for me.”
The bio for the account reads: “In a world where pools outnumber people”, which alludes to a post-apocalyptic world. “A world in which there are beautiful, functional pools everywhere,” explains McClusky. “Perhaps a world in which humans have become extinct – because we’ve plundered all of our natural resources – and all that’s left are pools, plants and animals, and they’re all just having a giant post-human pool party.”
It’s safe to say the account is a hit, solidified by a number of imitation Instagram accounts that cropped up in the weeks that followed. “I like the competition. It’s flattering. Either way, the world needs more pools. I mean, there are just so many beautifully designed, old, interesting pools out there and I think the world would benefit from seeing them.” When it comes to McClusky’s favourite pool, it’s one that she recently discovered in the mountains in Aspen. Meanwhile, Austin’s Barton Creek Greenbelt, Vermont’s Warren Falls, and the public pools in Reykjavík and Philadelphia are all of sentimental value.
“I dream of a world that’s designed in a more creative manner,” concludes McClusky. “I see every space I go into as with a maximised potential, or lost potential. Like, cities could hire me to design incredible public pools that are functional, beautiful pieces of well made, built-to-last art! It’s recreational, it gives people something physical to do, it’s fun, and it provides relief from the heat or cold depending on where you live – so why don’t they?”