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Luminous inflatables make an impact

Project Briefs | August 1, 2007 | By:

Alan Parkinson’s luminaria continue to delight visitors around the world.

“More effective than 20 years of therapy,” said one visitor. “Almost moved to tears,” commented another. “An absolutely unreal experience not to be missed. Very imaginative design.”

The inflatable luminaria from Architects of Air have been blowing people’s minds since the early 90s. In that time, the inflated fabric cities have become larger, more innovative and much more in demand. Company founder Alan Parkinson is behind the design of the installations and has been building the luminaria since 1985. “What first engaged me is the subtle yet astonishing beauty of the light and color that is intrinsic to this medium,” Parkinson states on the company’s Web site. “To build the structures I take an engineering approach—drawing on conventional techniques of sheet metal design allied with an understanding of how flexible materials deform under tension.” Parkinson’s goal is to build one new luminarium each year.

Cultural centers and festivals typically book a luminarium for exhibitions ranging between three and 30 days long. Normal wear and tear means that a luminarium can last for around 300 exhibition days before it is recycled. When a new luminarium is designed, Architects of Air needs five people and four months to build the structure.

The installation of such structures is somewhat similar to a typical tent installation in that Architects of Air requires site surveys, proper anchoring and power plans. Weather is also a concern for the inflatable cities. Though rain isn’t a problem until the water begins to pool underneath the luminarium, hot temperatures can mean uncomfortable visitors. Architects of Air also recommends that the structure should not be inflated at all if the temperature reaches 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Actual installation of a luminarium takes only two hours for laying the fabric and anchoring, and the time needed to inflate the structure can be as little as 20 minutes. Tear-down can be finished one hour after the last visitor exits.

And though the setup and take-down time may seem relatively short, the experience of walking through the luminarium will never be forgotten. As one visitor raved: “Love it, love it, love it. All I had hoped it would be, plus more. Will be back again and again and again.”

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