by Cocky Eek

Libarynth > Libarynth Web > CockyEek r42 - 17 Apr 2007 - 07:51

'Pneumatology' is a survey of interesting infatable stuff. It consists of a visual survey, a survey of innovative inflatable experts and materials and theory about what makes an inflatable alive (on body and architectural scale)

This research is written in the context of foam's multireal and real worlds:

MultiReal: 'translocal': Art in uncertain conditions –> guerrilla art-forms – portable, robust, low-tech, recyclable media, materials and technologies that can adapt to a variety of conditions. How can we make works such as responsive environments more mobile, easy to unpack, even pocket-size (inflate as needed)? how can we make such works accessible to people without galleries and black boxes - in the middle of the desert, or a jungle, or in an urban ghetto? is this type of art and tech needed at all? (think of modular tech and architectures, cheap technological solutions for providing full-body participatory media experiences, portable and soft architectures…)

Real: 'levitating': 'off the ground' & 'out of this world'. –> from extreme sports to extreme arts, (sometimes) defying the laws of physics. experiments in wind tunnels and zero-gravity, under-water and hanging from cliff-tops. have the arts become too tame and too self centered? has everything already been experienced? can arts still provide excitement and surprise as they used to when they were more in tune with what society experienced in everyday life? What games to we want to play in a world of mixed realities? (small performances and public interventions, expeditions and playgrounds)

While working on this research, I have scanned and will discuss in the end three design principles

  • 1. sustainability
  • 2. playfulness
  • 3. modularity

Lightness as a state of being
Around our contemporary environmental questions at least one thing became clear to me and that’s that out of fear, or to build on top of our guilt, we can’t create anything. So instead I rather like to slide the heavy burden of my shoulders and choose the quality of lightness. Italo Calvino underlines this quality as one of his ‘Six Memos for the Next Millennium’, in here he describes a scene from Cernavantes’ novel, leaving me with an unforgettable impression of lightness, in which Don Quixote drives his lance through the sail of a windmill and is hoisted up into the air. And I wonder can we construct our worlds from this lightness. Imagine a life more light and imagine it to be constructed more mobile, flexible, portable, organic and more related to our natural surroundings and the elements, and that we can create our homes or shelters wherever our heart is with no fixed form or any beginning and end, either spatially or in time.

The Renaissance embodied the idea of air or better ‘pneuma’ [wind, air, breath, spirit and soul] in their art of building. One of the primary goals of renaissance architects was to enhance the powers of pneuma so as to foster the art of well-being, essence, wind and ventilation were core principles of classical buildings. Pneuma was a wonderful link for establishing harmony between the human body, architecture and the cosmos, and that building was envisioned as a mediator between the inhabitant's soul and the -anima mundi-, the soul of the world. This indicates a link to contemporary environmental questions. Philibert Delorme's [French Renaissance architect 1514 -1570] describes that -the prudent architect is fully utilizing all his senses, and explains that the sense-less architect has “little nose” because he does not have the intuition of good things-, is evidence that the pneumatic architectural imagination is multi-sensorial. Renaissance notions of pneuma revealed a concern for the connectedness of person and place where architecture can refine the qualities of air to.

And in wondering if we can construct our worlds from the lightest quality surrounding us everywhere: –air- inflatable architecture comes the closests. Its thin flexible membrane, acts as a space-defining skin is able to give shape of –air- itself allowing it to be a breathing unity with its own integrity. Its close related to its surrounding its specifically bodily and tactile by nature and its portable, mobile, and playful.

Juhani Pallasmaa’s quoted in -The Eyes of the Skin- some general problem domains in our contemporary architecture:

  • The current over-emphases of intellectual and conceptual dimensions of architecture contributes to the disappearance of its physical, sensual and embodied essence.
  • While computer design can give us new insights in architecture we shouldn’t forget that creative work calls aswell for bodily and mental identification.
  • In general while our experience of the world is formulated by a combination of five senses, much architecture is produced under consideration of only one -the most dominated in our time – sight. The suppression of the other sensory realms has led to an impoverishment of our environment, causing a feeling of detachment and alienation.

The inhumanity of contemporary architecture and cities can be understood as the consequence of the negligence of the body and the senses, and the imbalance in our sensory system. Every touching experience in architecture is multi-sensory; qualities of space, matter and scale are measured equally by the eye, ear, nose, skin, tongue, skeleton and muscle, the way places feel, the sound and the smell of places has equal weight to way things look.

  • During the design process, the architect gradually internalizes the landscape, the entire context, and the functional requirements as well as his/her conceived building; movement, balance and scale are felt unconsciously through the body as tensions in the muscular system and in the positions of the skeleton and inner organs. As the work interacts with the body of the observer, the experience mirrors the bodily (proprioceptive) sensations of the maker. Consequently, architecture is communication from the body of the architect directly to the body of the person who encounters the work.
  • Modern architectural theory and critique have a strong tendency to regard space as an immaterial object delineated by material surfaces, instead of understanding space in terms of dynamic interactions and interrelations.

The experience of home is structured by distinct activities – cooking, eating, socializing, reading, storing, sleeping, intimate acts- not by visual impacts. Architecture initiates, directs and organizes behaviour and movements. Consequently basic architecture experiences have a verb form rather than being nouns. Authentic architectural experiences consist then, for instance, of approaching or confronting a building, rather than the formal apprehension of a facade, of the act of entering and not simple the visual design of the door; of looking in or out through a window, rather than the window itself as a material object. [reference to :There is a Timeless Way of Building- patterns of events]

  • A visual collection online of -Inflatble Structures- giving an overview of all kinds of different techniques or structures for inflation
  • To describe how an inflatable (on body and architectural scale) can be made -alive- and be an syneasthetic experience.
  • How to tackle the material waste we produce in the field of inflatables
  • To make a collection of physical materials/ samples for Foam's library in Brussel which includes innovative, tactile, environment friendly, inflatable materials, [par example; alternatives for pvc's and materials which don't adapte smells, semitransparants, selfhealing, etc]
  • To make an overview of innovative inflatable producers, manufactors, labs, academics and practical experienced people and their specialities which can be usefull for inflatable artists and technologists.
expected outcomes of the research:
  • 2006: to have a visual collection of interesting inflated structures, at the size on body or architectual scale, on line. It should be more diverse and playful than the collections that exist in some books and magazines.
  • 2006/2007: online theory about what makes an inflatable -alive= (on body and architectural scale)
  • 2006/2007: online ideas of how to tackle the material wastes/toxins of inflatable products
  • 2007: making an inventory of innovative inflatable- manufacturers, research labs, producers and other people working with inflatables both from the artistic and in the technological field. This survey will be online, and a physical collection of catalogues will be collected for Foam's material Library.
  • 2007: a selection of airtight eco/biodegradable material samples and innovative fabrics for inflatables will be collected for the material library at Foam

- In looking for specific inflatables structures as a visual survey; I became very tired quickly. Maybe because I came across a lot of dead stuff. So I decided just to look intuitively for inflatables I just really liked on an image. After some time I found one similar line in my picture collection: and that was that they were all -alive- in one way or another. For instance it were inflatables you want to be emerged with, play with, be involved with. And some of these inflatables are to simple to be true, but have an amazing opening effect on people. So I named the picture collection -Inflatable Inspirations-. So in this method I came in a reveresed way back to Buckminsters quote, trusting on the qualitys of beauty: “When I am working on a problem, I never think about beauty but when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.” Buckminster Fuller

For this collection I searched in books, the internet, my own picture archive, and asked collegues and experts.

- Then simultaniously I read several books which could give possible guidelines on how to create living - syneasthetical spaces on an architectural scale. By far the most relevant were Chistopher Alexander's writings: he unraveled in 1977 a pattern language to create 'living architecture’. Its a tool for anyone willing to surpass the general problem domains in our contemporary architecture as stated above, which often leaves us with a feeling of being alienated and detachment. This pattern language is based on the actions which takes place in space and time which makes one feel “alive”. I have summarized his patterns which can be used by anyone interested in building stuff.

-Then coming from Alexander's Pattern Language I have made a specific pattern language for -inflatable architectural structures-. I based it on the Architects of Air’s (UK) inflatable -Luminarium-. The Architects of Air are specicialized in making inflatable libarinths, every year deepening their patterns, by making a new libarynth. Their popular spaces are travelling all around the world and in general people find their spaces a real magical experience. I assisted 3 days in their Luminarium standing in Heemstede, a small village in Holland and that time it was only open for mental handicaped people. So exploring their inflatable space inside out on the field I tried to come to -an inflatable pattern language- for inflatable architectural structures, in such a way that everybody can use these patterns as a guideline to create one’s own ‘living inflatables’

- I have interviewed different inflatable and light weight experts, based in the Netherland (:Rogier Houtman - Tentech, Ed van Hinte - Building Lightness, Adriaan Beukers - TU delft, Arno Pronk - TU Eindhoven, Rien de vries - Buitinck Technology). Besides an open converasion in which I treid to explore their specialities I asked them specific questions around the most problematic patterns of inflatable structures like; how they regulate the temperature so it does not become instant hot when the sun shines, or instant freezing cold: how they deal with toxic materials; the quality of air inside; how they design their entrance portals; what to do with dominant smells; etc.

- I came across some problematic patterns in the Architects of Airs’s Luminarium which I recognized in creating inflatables myself, and other inflatable experts I have interviewed. So underlined the most common obstacles one comes across in inflatable structures. When we are able to surpass these obstacles, these structures will be more stable and alive. It considers issues like; dominant odors, choosing the right materials, energy sources, climate control etc. In this part no solutions will be given to any design problem, but some suggestions will be given so now and then…I called it -Design considerations for inflatable structures-

- From the three most relevant books I red I made a summary on line; The Timeless Way Of Building by Christopher Alexander, Cradle to Cradle by William McDonough & Michael Braungart, The Eyes of the Skin by Juhani Pallasmaa

- visited The Dead Chamber at the Tu Delft to experience a space where our hearing is blocked
- visited the exhibition In het Donker Gezien in Velzen Noord, made by a blind couple - to experience a space where our view is blocked.
- I participated the Building Lightness Seminar 15 juni te Delft,
- visited the symposioum Het Duurzaamheisdillema 27 november te Utrecht
- vistited the Zeppelin Museum in Friedrichhafen.

- For the physical collection of inflatables materials - I asked the experts which I interviewed, and collected them at the Tech-Textile Fair te Frankfurt 2007, and collect them from my own archive.

- I have listed the innovative inflatable experts, labs etc. at Inflatable Structures a page already existing at Foams libarynth. Most of them I came across during making the -Alive Inflatable- visual survey and for the rest I collected them from my own archive, the most interested ones I asked to send brochures for Foam's Library.

  • Inflatable Inspirations: 15 sections of visual -Inflatable Inspirations-. Each section by far don't give a complete overview in its field but I hope all works are, in one way or another, inspiring and can lead to new vibrations…
  • pneumatology: Lightness as a state of being. Some problem domains in our contemporary architecture.
  • Pattern_language A summary of Christopher Alexander’s -Pattern Language- to create a timeless way of building. This pattern language is based on the actions which takes place in space and time which makes one feel “alive”.
  • An Inflatable Pattern Language: A despription of the patterns based on the structures of `The Architects on Air (UK), which can be useful for anyone interested in building ‘living inflatable structures’.
  • Design Considerations For Inflatable Structures: After Coming across the problematic patterns of the architects of Airs’s Luminarium. I thought its worthwhile to acknowledge the most common obstacles one comes across in inflatable structures anyhow. No solutions will be given to any design problem, but some suggestions will be given so now and then… When we are able to surpass these obstacles, these structures will be more stable and alive.
  • A collection of physical materials and catalogues for inflatables at foam's public material library
  • Inflatable Links: An inventory of links for innovative inflatable- manufacturers, research labs, producers and other people working with inflatables both from the artistic and in the technological field, and links with innovative inflatable architecture, objects, & robots

- I scanned during this inflatable research three design principles of gRig, and I came along thre next findings during this research:

  • sustainability This is quite a complex matter and I wonder if sustainability is a word that really empower us… Personally the word itself is putting a heavy load on my shoulders. It rather paralyzes me, tries to push my guild buttons and to block my creativity; do we have to shrink our presence, our systems, our activities and so on. But we humans are part of nature to! And part of this nature is that we humans like to make things. The character of nature is that everything is made in the knowledge that it is going to die. And so we should think of the (bio) [-life-] cycles of all the stuff we make, considering that everything is build to die one day… Another thing is that we don’t have to be perfect right now, for instance the biodegradable materials we want are just not all available now, but we can set our goals for 20 years. From now we can define where we wanna go. Another thing I like to mention is that something will sustain` itself, when its made with real care and when its patterns are deeply connected to our own experiences and surroundings, then problably we automatically like to look after it.
  • The second design principle playfulness, reminds me most of a documentary I've seen about otters; in one scene; an otter is swimming in a river, and that day a thick layer of snow was fallen. One moment the otter is passing a hilly bank covered with snow. He goes out of the water and rans up the hill, and slides down into the water, he repeats it about 5 more times and then continues swimming in the river. There was no purpose for the otter for gliding down this hill, no other then that he enjoyed doing do. I guess I selected the pictures for the Inflatable Inspirations aswell all with this quality of playfullness. Its the world where possible obstacles don't have to mean anything but an opportunity for just play.
  • The third principle was modularity. I wonder if working with modular structures, we can make space which are alive. Christopher Alexander always asks himself the most important question when concerning spaciality: -how does it feel- as the most accurate scientific question. So one can ask himself; how does it feel to be in a modular surrounding…note that nature is never modular. Nature is full of almost similar units (waves, raindrops, blades of grass-) but though the units of one kind are all alike in their broad structure, no two are ever alike in detail. - the same broad features keep recurring over and over again. - in their detail appearance these broad features are never twice the same. - The quality of places is never twice the same, because it always takes its shape from the particular place in which it occurs. Each part is slightly different, according to its position in the whole. Each branch of a tree has a slightly different shape, according to its position in the tree. Each leaf on the branch is given its detailed form by its position on the branch. And maybe that's why for instance a tree or a waves or FOam is never boring. So an alternative is to think of -differentiating spaces-: It is not a process of addition, in which pre-formed parts are combined to create a whole: but a process of unfolding, like the evolution of an embryo, in which the whole precedes in parts, and actually gives birth to them, by splitting (so becoming different in the process of growth or development). Only a process of differentiation, can generate a natural thing; because this kind of process can shape parts individually, according to their position in the whole.
Three highlights in the visual collection of Inflatable Inspirations:
  • First of there is the starts of fully controlled dirigibles, in the highlighted period of 1904- 1919. The navigational capacity of airships introduced the first airborn passenger service. Pioneers in the States and Europe start to experiment with all kinds of airships till World War I- when air-balloons and lighter-then-air forms of transport came to be considered as outdated and ineffective.
  • Then about 60 years later is another highlighted period lets say from 1967-1972. The times where Theo Botschuiver, Jeffrey Shaw,(part of the Eventstructure research Group), Haus-Rucker-Co, The Pepsi- Pavilion and AGIS created constructions with a strong physical and mental impact. These inflatables can be seen as devices that greatly encourages public interaction and proved to be very popular. Right now the Luminaria from the Architects of Air (UK) have been creating total experience environments very similar (athought with a wider variety of forms) to AGIS's constructions in the sixties as Colourspace and Dreamspace. Aswell Agis and the Architects of Air's spaces are so distinct from other exhibition spaces or art institutions that they can act as a beacon that entices people and arouses curiousity, even those who have no interest in art. Like then, the Architects of Air now still design and make all their patterns just by hand. Haus-Rucker-Co were concerned with the possiblity of achieving a higher state of consiousness by means of a concentrated spatial experience. Although their inflatables had no computational embeddings, their PVC envelopes were often decorated with the circuit board like pattern of dots and lines. From here it seems that the computer allowed us to continue where the spacial visions of the sixries and seventys had stopped. It allowed the creation of fascinating constructions of endless dynamic spaces, held together by complex continuous surfaces. To my feelings Yet many of these designs were and are lacking something. They remain digital artefacts, as they are created in the artificial limitless world of the computer and therefor do not deal with the parameters of the real physical world…
  • The thirth highlight I see in the development of the interactive inflatables starting in 2003- till now. It are projects as: the ALAVs (Autonomous Light Air Vessels), Usman Hague's Open Burble and Sky Ear project, and Thoughts Go By Air, from Machine Cent'red Humanz; they are all evolving projects, of networked objects that communicate the concept of connectivity among each other, people, objects, and the environment. It seems that all three projects are really co-developed over several years in a physical and virtual environment, allowing the two to constantly exchange relevant information, and inform each other.
  • I see possibilities for new developments for inflatables spaces (at the scale of (interior)- architecture) which are co-developed over time in a physical and virtual environment, allowing the two to constantly exchange relevant information, and inform each other, to create innovative living spaces, without a feeling of detachment or being alienated.
  • Another thing I found is that hybrid structures can get us further; so for instance to come to a mix of inflatable and tensile structures like Airlight's Tensairity bridges: see the picture at The Non Categorized Inflatables
  • During our practises we found out that choclolate and inflatables is a good combination, so maybe we can create spatial recepys in this direction…
  • three parts of the research will stay updated over time; the collection of the visual Living Inflatbles (and adding a section on hybrid structures), to collect inflatable materials for the Foam library; and to keep the list of interesting inflatable producers, labs, experts etc. updated.
  • As a follow up from this research I like do realize two events where I will develop inflatable spaces solely inflated by wind. One of it just realised at Curtin University in Perth, Australia where I worked with students on the beach.
  • It was way more difficult to find eco friendly or biodegradable materials then I thought. The Tech-Textiele fair in Frankfurt 2007 promissed to have a lot of “green” materials, but I found not even 1, though I found a lot of 'Greenwash“ textiles…But slowly oveer time we'll get there or we'll be growing or manufacturing our own nutricious bio-degradable films in a pond.
  • I noticed people (no matter their background) react very strongly on the visual collection of the research, and yes it was the part I enjoyed doing the most.


  • Cradle to cradle William McDonough & Michael Braungart, 2002, ISBN-13: 978-0-86547-8
  • The Timeless Way of Building, Christopher Alexander, 1979, ISBN 0-19-502248-3
  • Een Patroontaal, Chistopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa en Muray Silversteien. 1977, ISBN 90-70-102269
  • Aeolian Winds and the the Spirit in renaissance Architecture, Barbara Kenda, 2006, ISBN10:0-415-39804-5 (pbk)
  • Six Memos for the Next Millenium, Italo Calvino, 1996, ISBN 9780099730514
  • Intelligent Skins, Michael Wigginton - Jude Harris,2002, ISBN-0750648473
  • The Inflatable moment, Marc Dessauce, 1999, ISBN 1-56898-176-7
  • Where's my Space Age, Sean Topham, 2003, ISBN 3-7913-2844-1
  • Blow Up, Sean Topham, 2002, ISBN 3-7913-2687-2
  • Lightness, Adriaan Beukers - Ed van Hinte, 2001, ISBN 90-6450-334-6
  • Flying Lightness, Adriaan Beukers - Ed van Hinte, 2005, ISBN 90-6450-538-1
  • The Eyes of the Skin, Juhani Pallasmaa, 2005, ISBN 0470015780
  • Nature Culture Fusion-Louis, G. Le Roy, 2002 ISBN 90-5662-278-1.
  • Leven op ’t hof, Gerard smallegange, ISBN 90-72138-00-7


  • BeauxArts magazine - Air- 2000


  • all Urls (used for the collection of inflatable images) are mentioned as subscriptions at Cocky Eek
  • “Inflatable Inspirations”: a visual survey of inflatables is archived at Cocky Eek
  • Inflatable materials will be archived (2007) in the Foam material library
  • Catalogues of inflatable manufactors will be archived (2007) at Foam's library

Cocky Eek- 17 Jan 2007

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