Once a subject of intensive exploration in the 1960s and '70s, air-inflated buildings are experiencing a resurgence. Originally propelled by environmental advocacy—such as Buckminster Fuller's call for ultralight buildings—inflatable architecture has once again become attractive for its potential to create maximum effect with minimal material.
Recent examples such as Diller Scofidio + Renfro's Hirshhorn Museum Bubble, Kengo Kuma's Inflatable Tea House, and Architects-of-Air's Mirazoz project, demonstrate the variety and ambition of this resurgence. Not to be outdone, the artist Christo recently completed "Big Air Package," which is the largest freestanding inflated envelope to date. Given his deep expertise in the creation of expansive fabric installations, it seems only fitting that Christo would execute such an achievement.
Located at the Gasometer Oberhausen in Germany—a voluminous gas container that was converted to an exhibition space in the 1990s—Big Air Package has a volume of 177,000 cubic meters (6,250,000 cubic feet), and is 90 meters tall (295 feet) and 50 meters (164 feet) in diameter. "When experienced from the inside, that space is almost like a 90-meter-high cathedral," said Christo in a press release. The installation is kept inflated at 27 pascals of constant pressure by two fans, and will be open for visits until December 2013.
Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a regularly featured columnist whose stories appear on this website each week. His views and conclusions are not necessarily those of ARCHITECT magazine nor of the American Institute of Architects.