The first inflated sculpture publicly toured by Architects of Air was named Eggopolis. It had maximum dimensions of 25m x 31m, rose to 8m in height and covered an area of 518m2. It was composed of series of domes connected by tubular passages. This was the first structure to incorporate the anchored pod which gave stability to the tall domes and also, through its central ‘lune’, gave the opportunity to have a gothic style ‘window’ that would allow light to enter. The centre dome of this structure used a motif from Islamic art – the ‘spiral of life’.
In 1993 Eggopolis was exhibited in s’Hertogenbosch and in Galway – the first time AoA ventured outside the UK. In Galway we stumbled across the music of Michael Morris which became the natural sound of the luminarium for the following years. After travelling as far afield as Singapore Eggopolis was ‘retired’ in 1997.
The second luminarium, was first exhibited in Calgary, Canada. It had overall dimensions 26m x 32m to 9.5 m in height and covered an area of 588m2. Here the centre dome was made of opaque pvc and the interior roof of the dome was gently lit by the coloured light from the outer domes which filtered through the ‘flying buttresses’ that connected the centre dome to the outer domes. This structure also used elevated corner domes whose central lune again functioned as a window
The airlock had an external frame inspired by a concept of Frei Otto.
Eggopolis was built using a pvc made in Taiwan. Whilst the material had some good performance characteristics we wanted to find a manufacturer who could produce better colours and an opaque silver. It was also necessary to find a manufacturer who could produce a material that could satisfy more demanding fire standards.
We found a manufacturer in France who was able to make the material in small enough quantities that we could afford - ½ ton per colour. The plastic appeared fine but when we blew it up for the first time it was clear that there were a lot of tiny holes in the opaque material. Fortunately, when the public went in for the first time and saw the pinpricks of light they assumed the ‘stars’ were part of the experience.
The Meggopolis plastic then failed all the more stringent fire tests and after a year began the surfaces most exposed to the sun’s rays began to decompose. By slicing off the top half of the structure and replacing it with fresh plastic Meggopolis lasted 3 years.
Commissioned by the South Bank Centre, London for installation on the roof of the Queen Elizabeth Hall. It was conceived to be the most adaptable to small or complicated sites.
The central dome had a colonnade which provided the focal point for performances. This was also the first structure to use developments of polyhedra to create domes. In particular it used the truncated icosidodecahedron (below right). This development of the dodecahedron is useful because it permits the building of an architectural superstructure as well as allowing access at ground level.
These polyhedra are not used in their pure state - but stellations and growth figures (suggesting sprouting buds) have been imposed upon the regular geometry.
Luminarium used a specially commissioned Swiss plastic. It too failed its fire tests. One mid winter night in Edinburgh the wind got up and caused the structure to flap about. By morning the repeated flexing of the cold plastic had caused thousands of cracks in the plastic. We had to replace all the opaque material – 90% of the structure.
Luminarium III went through some mutations (Luminariums IV & V) as pieces were replaced or new ones invented. It was finally rendered into small pieces and recycled in 2004.
Archipelago was designed to function as a string of linked autonomous islands. The outer domes used the truncated icosidodecahedron format with different patterned inlays.
Archipelago also had a central colonnaded dome (as have all structures since Luminarium III. The roof of the dome was rendered as a form of muqarnas ceiling. We did not estimate well the tension across the surface of the dome so all the relief detail flattened out.
Archipelago’s modularity enabled it to be exhibited in some new locations including the dockside of Stockholm.
Archipelago used a German pvc. The manufacturer could not make the colours exactly as required but they could guarantee fire retardency. Unfortunately it turned out that something in the formulation did not work well with our adhesive and 2 structures could not be put up in hot weather without the seams splitting. It was also guaranteed to not crack down to –15°C. It cracked at –8°C with a jagged hole 8 metres long across the base of one dome. Archipelago stopped touring on 2002.
1500m2 of structures built for a promotional tour of 28 cities in Germany.
Levity was built in 2000 and premiered at the Bergen International Festival in Norway. It has been one of the most widely praised of Architects of Air’s luminaria. Levity is the purest of the luminaria in terms of its lack of ornament. Levity was also the first structure built with a new pvc made in France – a pvc we have continued to use ever since.
The inspiration for its name came when looking at the completed structure with all the different elements pointing upward. Its lack of gravity (in the senses of both seriousness and heaviness) was evident and the very notion of ‘lightness’, even though it meant a confusion of categories, was very apt for a structure that is all about the experience of light.
The three outer domes continue an exploration of the dodecahedron. In Levity it is the more elaborate variant – the disdyakis triacontahedron – that provides a platform for an exploration of form and line. Here the seam lines act almost as fluid map contours to define the shape. Like earlier structures the Islamic graphic influence is here very visible albeit in quite an obtuse way. The way that the seam lines work helps to promote an almost meditative frame of mind where perception can shift between different organisations of the same view. This is the beauty of geometry as it is found in Islamic art.
The Red Tree is a dome with luminous central trunk and branches. It is inspired by the mythic attraction of magic trees. In Levity it is often the dome where one finds a large number of people sitting around the trunk – almost as people sit around an open fire as a communal centring on radiance.
The Centre Chamber had its point of departure in the marine illustrations of 19th Century biologist Ernst Haeckel although in this interpretation there is little that resembles the original inspiration of jellyfish forms. Here subtle colour is projected on to the domed ceiling to create a rainbow of gentle hues. Its base is hexagonal colonnade at ground level with illuminated columns at its three corners. This is the space that is most often the focus for performance.
Of all the luminaria Levity is also the most attractive as a night-time sculpture when illuminated from within.
Levity toured until 2004. The popularity of the luminaria had grown to the extent that we often had three structures exhibiting simultaneously in different parts of the world.
Arcazaar premiered at the ‘Ten Centuries of Architecture’ exhibition held in Prague Castle, Czech Republic and subsequently toured to South America.
Inspired by a study visit to Iran where Alan travelled the country visiting mosques and bazaars, Arcazaar represented a new approach to the aesthetic of the journey through the luminarium structure without sacrificing any of the functionality built up over the previous structures.
From the outside the profile of the structure undulates like the roof of a middle-eastern bazaar. Inside the path meanders to open out into tall domed chambers. In the bazaar such domes are also found at the intersections of passage-ways. Its premiere in Prague saw 7,000 visitors in just 4 days.
Taking the modularity of the Persian bazaar Alan created a structure based on an original triaxial dome module - essentially a three-sided dome that has the option to be open or closed on one or two of its three sides. Arcazaar has 62 such domes – each nearly 4m. high. From the outside the structure looks organic. The undulations of the domed passageways are aesthetically at one with the domes that rise at their junctions. Like its eastern counterpart Arcazaar’s higher domed passageways also achieve cooler temperatures than were found in earlier luminaria.
It is one of the challenges of this form of nomadic architecture to create structures that maximise the internal space whilst trying to occupy proportionally less external space (a ‘Tardis’ effect). One effect of the use of the triaxial dome is to greatly increase the length of the journey inside when compared to previous structures. The triaxial dome matrix imposes a meandering path but still permits long sight lines. In order to create a satisfactory journey of discovery, the deployment of the triaxial dome required Architects of Air had to build its biggest luminarium which resulted in the creation of over 330 metres of internal pathway.
Arcazaar toured until 2005.
Ixilum is the eleventh luminarium to be made by Architects of Air. It was premiered in the Tivoli Gardens, Ljubljana, Slovenia where it was so popular the Mayor intervened to extend its stay.
It was the biggest luminarium at 1200m2. In Ixilum the triaxial dome generates over 440m. of tunnels. Arcazaar has 72 such domes, Ixilum has 88. In addition to the overall matrix generated by the triaxial dome and its pods Ixilum also featured individual spaces that appear at the intersections. In Ixilum each of these spaces had its unique characteristic:
The Blue Maze features a forest of columns. At their centre is a yellow cupola that projects downward an illusion of bright sunlight.
The Red Tree is a dome where 2 columns formed by 6 triaxial domes each are inverted one on top of the other to create a dome with a luminous central trunk and branches.
The Centre Dome has a hexagonal colonnade at ground level superimposed with a very traditional form of a mosque dome. Here the seam pattern serves to emphasise the influences.
The Belle Chamber with an intricate muqarnas style roof originally had its point of departure in the by the marine illustrations of 19th Century biologist Ernst Haeckel. Here subtle colour is projected on to the domed ceiling that is punctuated with brilliant blue points.
Ixilum took 5,000 hours of work to build, used over 6,000 individual pieces of plastic, 7,000 square metres of plastic, and 40km of seams were glued to put it all together. Ixilum toured until 2006.
Amozozo was a reaction against the large scale of Arcazaar and Ixilum and was initially intended to be a small structure to add diversity to our stable of luminaria.
In addition to occupying half the ground area of Ixilum it also featured a scaled-down version of the triaxial dome used in the earlier structures.
Soon it became obvious we would need a larger structure and so the Tri-Dome was added an experiment in the ‘soap bubble’ principal of pneumatic construction where three 5 metre diameter ‘bubbles’ were joined in line to create a large open space. Here the seam pattern is foregrounded but in reverse fashion to the other domes - by making the seam the actual source of light.
Amozozo has proved to be one of our most versatile and long-serving structures.
Triaxial was a simple structure built in response to an invitation from Lille, European Capital of Culture 2004. It was based uniquely on triaxial domes scaled up from the Amozozo proportions to a size that has now become standard for the luminaria we have built subsequently.
Levity II follows the floor plan of its successful predecessor, the original ‘Levity ‘ built in 2000. This floor plan has proved to be the most satisfying in terms of the length of the journey inside and the variety of experiences that are to be had en route.
The three outer domes are an exploration of an adapted dodecahedron where seam lines act as fluid map contours to define the shape.
The Red Tree is a dome with luminous central trunk and branches. It is often the dome where one finds a large number of people sitting around the trunk, centering on radiance, as people would sit around a communal fire.
The ceiling of the Centre Chamber of Levity II is particularly beautiful - with translucent blue points in a swirling geometric pattern and indirect red light cast upward over the inner surface. Its base is hexagonal colonnade at ground level with illuminated columns at its three corners. This is the space that is most often the focus for performance.
A further elaboration of the soap bubble principal – built for exhibition in the Dutch city of Enschede. It was designed to fit on the main square of Enschede as part of the Levity II structure.
Levity III shares an identical floor plan with Levity II but its domes are all rendered differently. It had its première in Angers, France in 2007 .
One of the principal features of Levity III are the ‘spikes’ on the centre dome which were conceived to bolster up the anchorage and to permit hot air to escape.
Amococo’s. design is based on the floor plan generated by 86 triaxial domes.
From the outside the structure looks organic- the undulations of the domed passageways are aesthetically at one with the domes rising at their junctions.
The common visual motif of the Amococo domes is the ‘oculus’ – a high-level ovoid window that allows indirect coloured light to gently diffuse into the outer domes. The cupola of the central dome is made almost entirely of opaque plastic yet the ceiling resonates with scintillating colour filtering in through the oculi.
The colours of Amococo are calculated to generate the greatest diversity of subtle hues – using only four colours of plastic.
Amococo also experiments with the use of reinforced strips to confine and give higher definition to the form of the domes.
Amococo has 71 ‘pods’ – large alcoves, big enough to accommodate whole families, where people sit and relax out of the way of the visitors making their way around the structure. Each pod has its own monochromatic stained-glass window, arched like the windows of the gothic cathedrals that inspired them.
Mirazozo will be completed early in 2010. It will make more use of the illuminated seam feature first explored in Amozozo.
Like earlier structures the Islamic graphic influence is here very visible albeit in quite an obtuse way. The pattern of seam lines helps to promote an almost meditative frame of mind where perception can shift between different organisations of the same view. This is the beauty of geometry as it is found in Islamic art.
It will feature several ‘dodecadomes’ (domes based on the adaptations of the dodecahedron) and a large central dome – the largest open space structure that Architects of Air will have built. This dome is a further evolution of the soap bubble principal trialed on the Enschede Dome.
Mirazozo is also conceived to be very modular and to permit very compact configurations.
Built in 2011, Miracoco represents a new step in the evolution of luminarium design. Taking the best from what we have learnt from earlier structures we’ve achieved greater control over the inflated form.
Functionally this means improvements in safety and in modularity but, most importantly, this new luminarium promises to be one of the most visually exciting that we have built.
Miracoco closely resembles its sister structure Mirazozo in terms of the visitor’s journey and the disposition of its spaces.
Its distinctive element is in the rendering of the domes. The dodecahedral domes follow a geometry made more precise by the increased use of reinforced restraints to define the structure. The working of the illuminated seams enhances the sense of structure.
Miracoco’s Centre Dome is yet more voluminous than any previous dome we have built. It is a monumental structure, redolent of the Lotus Temple of India, that features spiral lattices to create a display of scintillating points of light on a field of iridescent hues.
Built in 2012, the name acknowledges Eggopolis, Architects of Air’s first luminarium, the ‘gg’ having been replaced by ‘XX’ to refer to the 20th luminarium design and the 20th anniversary of the company.The principal dome – the CUPOLA - was inspired by the circular space of the Chapter House of Southwell Minster.
In partnership with Lakeside Arts Centre local (Nottingham) community groups were enlisted in the ‘Windows Project’ workshops to make the intricate ‘stained glass’ windows of the EXXOPOLIS CUPOLA based on a tiling design by Sir Roger Penrose.
Built in 2013, Pentalum is conceived to be a homage to the pentagon in its different guises. The pentagonal theme is even carried through to the new designs of tent and airlock, all elements being ingeniously designed to be fit in a hexagonal matrix that allows many different configurations. One element, the Main Dome, departs from the pentagonal theme by being a seven-sided heptagon
Architects of Air’s 22nd luminarium, Arboria, is dedicated to the theme of ‘trees’. It is unusual for a luminarium design to approach a theme and in the case of Arboria the theme is not taken so literally that it could become a distraction from the fundamental luminarium experience – that of encountering the phenomena of light and colour in a remarkable environment.