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Explore inflatable art

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Closer to earth, Architects of Air is giving thousands of people a new experience of color and light with its gigantic walk-through inflatable luminaria. Designer Alan Parkinson has been creating luminaria at his Nottingham, U.K., company since 1986, and has shown them at more than 500 exhibitions around the world. The newest one, Exxopolis, unveiled this year, occupies half a football field and rises to three stories tall. Unlike other structures that aim to be more permanent or long term, Parkinson’s aim is for short-term enjoyment.


“The impermanence of our structures is one of their benefits. I’m not interested in more functional applications. The built-in obsolescence ensures we don’t rest on our laurels but keep trying to make better luminaria,” he says. “We’re trying to build a new structure each year, and each new structure gives me clues as to how I would like to see the next structure develop.”

The luminaria are made of unsupported vinyl produced by a French company specifically for Architects of Air, and sealed principally with glue. The low-tech design allows the company to enlist inexperienced people to help build the structures. Only four colors are incorporated into the materials, but they produce a great diversity of subtle hues.

“I think these structures meet a public need and I would like to see more designers developing their own luminarium-type structures,” says Parkinson. “For us, it is already a growing market, and public interest is such that there is plenty of room for more creators to enter the field.”

Barb Ernster is a freelance writer based in Fridley, Minn.

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