Wednesday, October 3rd, 2012
We’ve all seen inflatables of one sort or another, but the inflatable vinyl Luminarias designed and constructed by Architects of Air (AoA; Nottingham, UK), are in a class of their own. Their size—up to 1,000 square meters of floor space with dome
s 10 meters high—sets them apart, but visitors say the magic is in the experience of being inside one.
Each Luminarium—six are touring the world in 2012-2013—consists of a number of domes connected by tunnels, plus ‘pods’, alcoves where people can sit, relax, and allow the colors to soak in. Much of what visitors call the magic of the Luminaria comes from the colors created by the outside light coming through the colored vinyl material.
Suffusing the smooth vinyl walls and floors throughout the labyrinth, the rich colors create an atmosphere visitors describe as meditative, peaceful, delightful, or restful. Despite the vividness and saturation of the colors, many visitors simply lie down and fall asleep. They say it’s a world apart from their normal everyday environments. They report feeling immersed in the color while their faces and clothing are totally transformed.
The vinyl (polyvinyl chloride, PVC ) film is manufactured in France specifically for AoA. In addition to its optical properties, the PVC is strong enough for repeated shipping and handling, yet flexible and lightweight for easy assembly. It only takes around four hours to distribute and anchor the material in the proper shape, and about 20 minutes to inflate it to its monumental size. When it’s time to leave, takedown and packing take just a few hours.
Since they began touring in 1992, the AoA Luminaria have been set up in over 500 locations in 38 countries, and enchanted thousands of visitors. Many return for a second visit, often to find that the atmosphere inside is changed—in
sync with changes in the light and weather outside. Some describe the experience as being in a futuristic space ship or inside a human body, and many are struck by an apparent paradox: How is such a stimulating environment also a calming one? Art does things like that.
Being a plastics geek, I’m struck by the huge variety of applications where PVC is the best choice. It works for medical devices, IV bags and tubes, building siding and window frames, roof membrane of many London Olympics venues, toys by the hundreds, furniture, playground equipment, and pipes. Vinyl records were thought to be obsoleted by CDs, but instead are enjoying a renaissance thanks to music aficionados that prefer the sound quality of recordings on vinyl.
A Vinyl Luminarium Swells to Life at the Sydney Opera House