Has the Infinity Pool Lost Its Edge?
The once-revolutionary architectural luxury has drawn Instagram influencers for decades, but its days in the sun might be coming to an end.
In the early 2010s, when the word “wanderlust” entered our everyday vocabulary and “take my hand” travel photos became all the rage, nothing fueled our desire to travel quite like the infinity pool. The boundaryless feat of structural engineering was a social media status symbol, a hot spot for influencers in pursuit of that perfect shot: Back to the camera, eyes on the horizon, a lone swimmer in a blue body of water at one with the sky.
On a recent visit to a boutique hotel, when the front desk informed me—with a playful wink—that an infinity pool graced the premises, I let out an automatic “oooh,” before falling into a deep line of questioning: Does the posh piscine gracing luxury hotels everywhere still have the power to inspire awe? Is it worth waiting around until everyone’s done splashing for that miraculously empty shot? And if that vanishing edge is a bit passé, where do we go from infinity?
“With social media driving so many of our travel choices, I do believe infinity pools still carry a lot of value and drive [hotel] bookings,” says Brooke Saward, the blogger behind World of Wanderlust. She’s been traveling solo for over 10 years, living in different hotels around the world. Her favorite infinity pool? The one at Singita Pamushana Lodge in Zimbabwe, a sparkling example overlooking the serene Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve.
David Knowles, CEO and creative director of hotel consulting company Artelier, shares Saward’s sentiments. “The infinity pool will always provide shock value for its ability to remind individuals of luxury and exclusivity, areas unattainable to the general public,” he says. “To create an illusion with water merging into the horizon will always be a trompe-l'oeil, because the result shows a successful collaboration between man-made structures and natural elements.”
The infinity pool’s design hinges on a trick of the eye—what Knowles describes as a trompe-l'oeil—in which a hidden portion of the pool’s far wall is removed, allowing water to overflow into a catch basin built into the wall’s exterior. The concept dates back to the 1950s, when one-time Frank Lloyd Wright apprentice John Lautner introduced an early version of the infinity pool into the construction of Silvertop, a futuristic Los Angeles home commissioned by engineer Kenneth Reiner. The cantilevered swimming pool’s dramatic design aimed to visually merge Reiner’s property with the Silver Lake Reservoir below.
Fast forward a couple decades, and the Lautner-designed infinity pool featured in the 1971 James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever helped to spread the architectural optical illusion’s gospel. It eventually made its way into celebrity culture, refreshing the homes of Beyoncé and the Kardashians. But there was a darker side, too. Perhaps due to its sanitized, fit-for-one appearance, the infinity pool exuded a certain level of creepiness. Case in point: Infinity Pool, Brandon Cronenberg’s recent science-fiction thriller where the eponymous pool’s trippy design is the source of some dark mayhem.
Nevertheless, hoteliers have long understood how the infinity pool could provide the ultimate Instagram flex. It’s a form of art within a public sphere, and as Instagrammers snap photos, they become a part of the immersive experience. Yet as TikTok’s emergence complicates the very notion of travel influencing, the luxury-laden trope has started to wear away.
“We’ve noticed a change in the demand for infinity pools,” Knowles says. “The biophilic style is a great alternative—the same thing, but natural. Think rock pools or hot springs, integrating nature into design elements that aren’t so artificial looking. That way, individuals receive a holistic experience that's not so out of touch with the natural world.”
Given the rise of sustainable hospitality and eco-conscious eating, this shift toward a pool style that integrates the natural environment rather than attempting to visually defy it makes sense. On the residential front, a similar architectural trend involves building swimming pools into the very fabric of a home. It’s especially popular in warmer climates, where open-air living spaces are the norm. Design magazine Dezeen highlights Mexico’s Casa Xótol, where a wading pool flows through a walled courtyard, and Villa Cava, which features a rooftop pool that you can view from below through a circular skylight, as leading examples.
Knowles also points to his clients’ increasing demand for public art installations that challenge the assumed functions of a public space. “We recently finished a project in Dubai where [the] grass was replaced with shallow pools of water and linear paths of stone,” he says. “And we commissioned a local artist to create Modernist sculptures to be placed within the pools.”
While landscape designers are certainly getting more experimental, there’s no denying that the infinity pool forever shaped modern architecture by setting a precedent for the structural interplay between natural elements and man-made construction. And if you’re under the impression that the zero-edge Instagram cliche will soon be a permanent fixture of the past, think again. As Saward adds, “Now that so many five-star hotels have infinity pools, I can see how the wow factor might have diluted to some extent, but I don't think that takes away from those picture-perfect moments that people travel far and wide for.”