Skip-swimming: The UK craze sweeping New York

A rubbish idea: How a Briton's notion of using skips to create an urban oasis is cooling down Americans this summer
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The Independent US

Some ideas are great; others are rubbish. This, it would seem, combines both. In what has become a summer phenomenon in New York, bathers are swimming in water-filled dumpsters – that's American for skip – and queuing up for the privilege. The idea of swimming in rubbish skips originated in the UK. But, like many of Britain's inventions, it has been taken up and given an injection of enthusiasm by the US.

Three giant skips have been hauled to an industrial lot in Brooklyn, where they were fitted with plastic liners and filled with 19,000 gallons of water. The skips are arranged in a half-circle and connected by a wooden deck, with folding chairs set out. Pool filters keep the water clean.

"We are trying to do a kind of lo-fi urban country club," said David Belt, who, with associates Jocko Weyland and Alix Fienkind, masterminded the project. "It's very ironic: it's a trash receptacle, but it's clean and refreshing. It's funny how many people assume that people in New York would swim in really dirty water."

The urban oasis, unveiled over the 4 July weekend, was intended only for friends and family, but when photos of the pools popped up in local media, crowds began to descend on the site. "It became this crazy thing where everyone was trying to find the dumpsters," said Mr Weyland, a designer. "But the reality is, you can't invite everybody over."

Two years ago, the British design artist Oliver Bishop-Young transformed skips into skateboard ramps, miniature gardens and street-side swimming pools. His south London water holes did not attract as many takers as their American counterparts are now. "I had a group of friends come by. I opened it up to the public as well, but I didn't have any takers."

The American designers said that they had not seen Mr Bishop-Young's work before they built their own pool complex. Nevertheless, they spoke admiringly of the Englishman's work with rubbish receptacles.

Mr Bishop-Young, who has moved on to new design projects around Europe, returned the compliment. "These kinds of ideas can be flogged about and repatriated," he said. "I'd prefer people to be enjoying it. In a way, it's quite flattering."

The US designers reckon that someone could make their own dumpster pool for $1,000. "We sanded out the rough edges, put sealant in the corners and put liner in it and then sand. Then we covered it in tarp and filled it with water – lots of water," Mr Belt said.

Those behind the craze say that diving is permitted but caution is advised. After a few laps, bathers can lounge poolside or prepare some dinner on the barbecue grill.

The team has since been inspired to come up with a new recycling project, transforming vacant retail stores, or "strip malls", into public parks. "Instead of this modern obsession of out with the old and in with the new, these waste spaces can be turned into something good," said David Belt.