Immersive structures by Architects of Air provide transformational experience

Crossing architecture, art and design, the UK-based collective Architects of Air transcends all mediums to create a completely unique experience of light and space.

by Shraddha Nair Published on : Mar 11, 2020

A singular emerging trend is causing a massive shift in the way we live, research, and study. With increasingly complex social, political, and economic structures, the world has begun to reject black and white binaries in favour of a spectrum of shades of grey. The purists may resist this change in the name of fundamentalism, but the fact remains that the future is geared towards multifaceted philosophies. The boundaries between arts and science are becoming increasingly blurred, a welcome change which is providing us with new ways to look at the information. The existing walls between creative industries too are gradually disintegrating. In a world which is becoming interdisciplinary, exploration and experimentation is of vital importance. In many ways, the 21st century is a whole new world from what existed before the turn of the millennium.

In continuation of this conversation, we look at the work of a fascinating company, which bases its work in architecture, realises it using the tools of design, and influences people across the world through the magic of art. Architects of Air is based in Nottingham, United Kingdom, and was founded by Alan Parkinson in 1992.

  • A luminarium on tour, Miracoco, is named after Parkinson’s youngest child Nico, and is inspired by the Lotus Temple of India | Architects of Air | Alan Parkinson | STIRworld
    A luminarium on tour, Miracoco, is named after Parkinson’s youngest child Nico, and is inspired by the Lotus Temple of India Image Credit: Courtesy of John Owens
  • Exxopolis was built by Architects of Air in 2012, and its principal dome is inspired by the circular space of the Chapter House of Southwell Minster | Architects of Air | Alan Parkinson | STIRworld
    Exxopolis was built by Architects of Air in 2012, and its principal dome is inspired by the circular space of the Chapter House of Southwell Minster Image Credit: Courtesy of John Owens

The story of how Parkinson was introduced to the world of pneumatic structures is a serendipitous one. In the early 80s, Parkinson had a part-time job as a minibus driver for a community project, which helped criminal offenders find work and in exchange, they would also supervise activities for disadvantaged children and adults. The offenders who were part of this programme had built a bouncy airbed for the kids to enjoy during the playtime, which Parkinson supervised. He noticed that there were several structural flaws. Thus, began his experiments with inflatable structures. “The community project, called The Windbag Inflatable Project, was very supportive of my experiments with structures and over the years I gradually developed my competence for design in the plastic medium. In 1992 I established myself as an ‘Architect of Air’ (AoA) to build and tour my luminarium designs,” says Parkinson.

AoA defines a luminarium as a sculpture, which people can enter to be moved to a sense of wonder at the beauty of light and colour.

  • The luminarium Dodecalis by Architects of Air, whose asymmetry disorientates the visitor and makes the exploration more exciting | Architects of Air | Alan Parkinson | STIRworld
    The luminarium Dodecalis by Architects of Air, whose asymmetry disorientates the visitor and makes the exploration more exciting Image Credit: Courtesy of John Owens
  • Dodecalis has been named after dodecahedron - composed of 12 regular pentagonal faces, three meeting at each vertex | Architects of Air | Alan Parkinson | STIRworld
    Dodecalis has been named after dodecahedron - composed of 12 regular pentagonal faces, three meeting at each vertex Image Credit: Courtesy of John Owens

An avid photographer since the young age of 11, Parkinson had always been fascinated by light. This creative pull found its way into AoA as well, with Parkinson creating structures which went beyond physical experiences but also became aesthetic ones with a mesmerising immersion of light and colour. The aptly titled luminarium is an enveloping audio-visual experience, which has travelled to five continents, through over 40 countries and has enchanted more than three million visitors since 1992.

Architects of Air aims to create one new luminarium every year. While the creation process is a collaborative effort, the larger than life structures are designed by Parkinson who draws inspiration from natural forms and geometry as well as visual heritage from Gothic and Islamic architecture.

Currently, AoA has seven luminaria which are on tour as well as two smaller structures, which are dedicated to schools and projects serving children with special needs.

The luminarium Katena by Architects of Air, inspired by the beauty of the catenary curve | Architects of Air | Alan Parkinson | STIRworld
The luminarium Katena by Architects of Air, inspired by the beauty of the catenary curve Image Credit: Courtesy of John Owens

What is lovely about Parkinson’s lifelong project is that its enjoyability is not restricted to a particular age or ethnicity as it calls on our innate, childlike sense of wonder while also being inclusive to those with physical disadvantages. The concept of a luminaria becomes truly exciting when one considers the possibilities of enhancing experiential learning. The AoA project also has interesting implications in architecture. What will the future hold? One can only continue to reject borders and boundaries and hope to find out.

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About Author

Shraddha Nair

Shraddha Nair

Nair is a writer and curator based in Bengaluru, India. Her curatorial practice is a method by which she negotiates with and navigates the complexities of human behaviour, an interest which flows into her writing as well. She believes that art and collective experience hold immense capacity in the cultivation and development of action and emotion.

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