Inflating space for public discourse

October 1st, 2016 / By: / Projects

The pillowy and billowy REFRACTOR captures attention wherever it pops up. Photo: Trevor Dykstra.
The pillowy and billowy REFRACTOR captures attention wherever it pops up. Photo: Trevor Dykstra.

One minute, the neighborhood park is quiet; the next, it’s filled with protesters, party animals or players of Pokémon GO. The Seattle Design Nerds is an all-volunteer nonprofit organization dedicated to design in the public realm. The Nerds decided that when temporary or flash gatherings happen, they deserve a structure that can be delivered by hand and rapidly deployed to shelter the conversation.

Enter the REFRACTOR, an inflatable structure that expands to a 315-square-foot circular room with a 16-foot ceiling that fits into a three-by-two-foot cart. The REFRACTOR uses ad-hoc material for spontaneous events: scavenged cardboard, as well as painter’s plastic and space blankets cut into triangles and sealed together. Each material contributes to the whole. The plastic sheeting allows diffuse light into the inflatable structure and glimpses of the inner gathering from outside. Shiny Mylar® polyester film space blankets reflect the world around the structure. Cardboard makes a resilient walking surface and a medium for a mural by artist Lina Cholewinski.

The REFRACTOR has inspired events held in parks, on top of parking ramps and on boardwalks.

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