Design Five Inflatable Structures

Five Inflatable Structures

Giorgia Massari

At some point in the twentieth century, specifically starting from the 1950s, artists began to consider the use of natural materials for their works. Air, perhaps the most unthinkable but undoubtedly the most abundant, gave rise to Inflatable design and art. From the famous public works of Christo to the inflatable sculptures of Franco Mazzucchelli (which we have discussed here), many artists, architects, and designers began to experiment with air, creating objects and large structures, utilizing the most readily available resource on the Earth’s surface. In addition to generating no waste, when “trapped,” air becomes incredibly welcoming and demonstrates its structural properties. Thus, lightweight yet robust objects with a pop and playful appearance are born. The possibilities of use become endless, and, with the right design, inflatable objects prove to be highly versatile. From creating furniture items – such as sofas, for example – to actual habitable structures, as well as sensational works of art and large-scale installations. The portability, infinite availability of air, and low production costs make Inflatable design sustainable and applicable even in emergency situations, as seen in the case of Michael Rakowitz’s ParaSITE shelters, inflatable structures built to accommodate the homeless. Today, we have selected five inflatable structures to introduce to you.

#1 The inflatable Blow chair by Jonathan De Pas, Donato D’Urbino and Paolo Lomazzi (1967)

The Blow inflatable armchair, conceived in 1967 by Jonathan De Pas, Donato D’Urbino and Paolo Lomazzi, is an icon of contemporary design. Featuring organic forms and innovative materials such as vinyl, the armchair challenges traditional canons with a bold and experimental approach. Blow is not just an armchair, but a functional work of art that embodies the creative and avant-garde spirit of the 1960s. Its playful and dynamic design helped redefine the concept of furniture, becoming a symbol of boldness and innovation in the world of interior design. The persistent popularity of the Blow testifies to its relevance in the landscape of modern design and the affirmation of the inflatable.

#2 Innerling sofa x IKEA by Jan Dranger (1997)

In the 1990s, Swedish furniture designer Jan Dranger approached Ingvar Kamprad, founder of IKEA, with a revolutionary idea: to solve the problem of packing sofas and armchairs in flat packs to simplify transportation and reduce costs. The challenge was considerable, considering the heavy wooden structure of much upholstered furniture. Dranger proposed a new concept of inflatable furniture called SoftAir, using new technologies and durable materials. His innovation included the fact that it was no longer necessary to inflate the furniture with compressed air, but it could be inflated with an ordinary hair dryer. In 1995, he presented Kamprad with prototypes of inflatable sofas, armchairs, and stools covered in fabric. The inflatable approach was not new to IKEA, which had tried similar solutions in the past, including inspiration from car interiors in the late 1970s. After a series of secret meetings, IKEA signed a contract with SoftAir to introduce this innovative line of inflatable furniture in their stores.

#3 Waterfall Arches by Cyril Lancelin in the Hyundai’ store in South Korea (2022)

Artist Cyril Lancelin created the installation Waterfall Arches, displayed at a department store in South Korea. This inflatable sculpture, emulating the architectural form of a contemporary arch, transforms the retail space into an immersive exhibition environment. The giant green arches unfold in a repetitive series, inviting visitors to interact from various levels. The use of color recalls the surrounding water and vegetation, integrating with the environment. The installation combines the concepts of museum and department store, seeking to engage visitors and promote social connection. The artist emphasizes active participation, transforming the maze into an artificial landscape of possibilities, where visitors share creative moments through photos and videos, establishing a visual and social dialogue.

#4 Organic Concept by Shih Chieh Huang at the Worcester Art Museum (2017)

fotografia di Kim Noonan; immagine © Worcester Art Museum

Perhaps many will remember the large inflatable worm-shaped sculpture by artist Shih Chieh Huang in the Renaissance Court of the Worcester Art Museum. The structure, powered by box fans, meandered through the space, pulsating and seeming alive. Using common materials, Huang transforms familiar objects into complex forms, creating kinetic works that move, flash and change color in the half-light.

#5 Super Maxi designed by Pratt Brooklyn architecture students (2021)

As a final example, we bring you a recent project by Pratt Institute of Brooklyn architecture students Ayse Bengiserp, Sophi Lilles, Jia Yi (Melody) Lin, Beren Saraquse and Rithika Vedapuri. This is the Super Maxi project, through which Pratt Institute students tackled the problem of plastic waste by creating large-scale inflatable structures during an architectural study. Using recycled plastic, they developed efficient geometric systems, raising crucial questions about the issues of thin plastic waste. The course, led by Robert Lee Brackett III and Duks Koschitz, involved experimenting with inflatable construction techniques to create self-supporting walls, tubes and domes. The installations, displayed on the Brooklyn campus, offered distinct visions of inflatable design, addressing issues such as the use of single-use plastics and stimulating thinking about sustainable alternatives.

Written by Giorgia Massari
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