Special Reports

Free floating

By Gretchen Salois

Above: Craning in the first of two 65-ft.-long pool sections at a luxury residential tower in New York City.

Massive stainless steel swimming pools are carefully planned and executed by a team of well-trained experts

December 2020 - Within the concrete monoliths in New York City lie pockets of respite in the forms of spas and swimming pools. Behind each high-rise oasis lies a long timeline of planning by architects, designers, engineers, fabricators and construction crews that take an idea and figure out the logistics behind making it a reality. At Bradford Products, stainless steel is used to create lighter, stronger and sleeker swimming pool designs, where fabricators bring architects’ visions to reality.

A typical concrete pool will give the user about 10 years before surface maintenance or refinishing is required. A stainless steel pool is guaranteed not to crack or leak for 25 years. When exposed to environmental elements or seismic forces, over time, concrete inevitably cracks. Microscopic fractures result in discoloration and erosion that eventually require significant repairs. Concrete swimming pools may result in water leaks, plumbing failures or structural degradation, compelling users to spend significant amounts of time and money to refinish or replace their pool in addition to repairing infrastructure damage.

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Above: A Bradford fabricator welds a frame in the manufacturing facility in North Carolina.

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Using steel instead of concrete opens up design and placement opportunities that might otherwise be difficult to achieve and maintain due to weight or size constraints. At Bradford Products, pools are prefabricated then disassembled in order to transport to the pool site—whether that means ushering two large slices of steel via crane to lay down at a Las Vegas hotel, or dissected into multiple pieces in order to ascend to the top of a New York City rooftop deck.

“We’ve managed to install pools in some pretty challenging and unique places—including mountainsides and skyscraper rooftops,” says Michael Brodeur, CEO. Most recently, Bradford built and installed a pool unlike anything in the world. Set atop steel bearing plates, Bradford’s engineers managed to design a stainless steel and acrylic pool that connects two buildings, 10 stories up, in downtown London.

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Above: Craning in a fully-fabricated stainless steel spa at the InterContinental Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, California.

Below: A helicopter delivers one section of a stainless steel pool to the rooftop of a penthouse in Miami, Florida. Photo: Golden Dusk Photography

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From drawing to shop floor

More than 160 employees make up Bradford’s team of designers, fabricators and administrators. “Our engineering department draws up the design in SolidWorks, it is reviewed by the client and then integrated into the architects’ building drawings,” Brodeur says. “Then it goes back to the engineering department once it obtains all the approvals it needs.

“Our team blows the entire drawing up, flattens it out and sends it to the shop floor where all the pieces are laser cut,” he continues. “Then we send it to a brake where everything is bent.” The result is hundreds of puzzle pieces that are then moved on to the fabrication department where welders match labeled pieces to one another and bring it all together. They fully fabricate the pool, regardless of the size, on the shop floor.

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Above: On-site finish welding at the Hotel Indigo Lower East Side, New York. Bradford’s welders travel to each site to complete the pools.

Below: Workers assemble pool sections on site using welding.

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Fabricators work within a 180,000-sq.-ft. manufacturing facility where, at any time, 10 or more projects can be laid out. “We just sent out some pools to Las Vegas for the Circa Resort that were over 5,000 sq. ft.,” Brodeur says. “We prefabricated the steel pools, then broke the vessels apart into sections that will fit onto a flatbed truck, which we then ship to the job site. Once the pieces get there, we weld everything back together.”

Bradford pools and spas are transported all over the country, but one of its latest projects for Ballymore in London required that each piece be prefabricated and placed in waterproof containers to be shipped across the Atlantic. Once there, the next hurdles included planning logistics to include taking down road and overpass signs because the pieces were oversized for roads that are much narrower than those in the United States. “We had to get special permits to remove roadside features; all of that took time and careful planning,” Brodeur says.

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On-site water test of a pool in Park Grove, Miami. Bradford provided 11 stainless steel elevated vessels to this project.

For a 15-ft. by 40-ft. pool, Bradford fabricators will weld the entire pool together in the factory with the intention that it will be shipped in two pieces. “For a pool this size, we prefab the entire thing then cut it lengthwise with lifting lugs welded on each half that the crane will attach to,” explains Brodeur. “A spreader bar helps move the halves into final position on site. From there, we level it and finish-weld it together. If access is tight, we might end up cutting it down into much smaller sections that are brought up using a freight elevator.”

Bradford employs about 60 welders at any given time, a dozen plumbers, three laser cutting technicians and eight press brake operators. They work closely with 14 engineers and eight project managers to bring the design to life.

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Bradford provided identical stainless steel pools for the 47th and 50th floor rooftops on two Miami towers. Photos: Golden Dusk Photography

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Steady stream of talent

For some commercial jobs, health codes require a tiled or partially tiled interior surface. Bradford is able to provide vessels that are either fully tiled in the factory, or more commonly, tiled on site. For a building in Albany, Bahamas, the entire facade consists of plunge pools with clear acrylic faces.

While Bradford’s designs are modern and customized for each client, the methods they use are decidedly traditional. Welders TIG weld each seam where an automated welding robot cannot reach. “Every job we do is different from the last,” Brodeur says. “It can be frustrating at times to constantly redo things where it might be easier using a welding robot. It’s just not feasible given the way pieces are reassembled at the job site.

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For Topgolf Las Vegas, Bradford built an elevated stainless steel pool with clear acrylic viewing windows overlooking a second stainless steel pool.

“All of our welders go through a long, rigorous training process,” he continues. “We’ll start folks on welding full tile pools because the beads will be hidden by the tile finish. A welder will do this for quite some time before they can work on exposed stainless vessels where every bead is visible to the end user.”

Based near Wilmington, North Carolina, much of the demand for Bradford’s pools comes from out of state, but its welders are home grown. “There’s not a lot of industry here in Southeast North Carolina. We’re actually the second-largest employer in our entire county outside of the hospital,” Brodeur says.

To ensure a constant supply of welding talent, Bradford has established a program with the nearby Cape Fear Community College. There, welders are trained with Bradford’s specific requirements in mind. “We get a lot of our people from that program,” he says. “Wilmington is not a huge town, so word of mouth has drawn a lot of interest and brought students to the area.”

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Each honeycomb-shaped balcony is fashioned with its own stainless steel swimming pool in Albany, Bahamas. Photo: Golden Dusk Photography

Most workers are based in North Carolina but travel throughout the country and around the world. “Our welders live here and travel so that we can keep a close eye on the level of quality we demand,” Brodeur says.

It is important that welders are well versed in the niche skills required to fabricate stainless steel swimming pools. The quality and consistency of the welds are critical to the watertightness and integrity of the pool shell. FFJ


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