One does not often think of balloons, zeppelins, and moon bounces as architecture. Yet in the counterculture of the late '60s and early '70s, young architects and architecture students increasingly turned to inflatables as a way to critique the hardness and uncompromising forms of modernism. While many of these were drawings and conceptual ideas never realized, others were deployed at music festivals and as temporary performances. Ant Farm, a radical architecture collective based in Berkeley, California, even went so far as to issue the Inflatocookbook, a guide to the construction and realization of inflatable architecture.
Though this practice never achieved mainstream appreciation during its early days, many prominent firms such as Coop Himmelb(l)au counted inflatables among their first projects. Inflatable architecture soon saw a renaissance in the '90s and '00s, with OMA incorporating a giant balloon into their Serpentine Pavilion.
Jersey Devils, Inflatables. Image source.
As this project shows, most of the inflatables were inhabitable, putting them irrevocably in the realm of architecture. Many were used as experimental environments, enclosing performances of music or art as a conceptual incubator of these practices. Easily made, repaired, and deployed, inflatables were intended to be temporary and cheap. The major components—plastic sheets and large fans—could be found anywhere.
Ant Farm, Clean Air Pod. Image source.
This performance piece at UC Berkeley involved using an inflatable to critique environmental air quality and pollution. The architects created a situation where, conceptually, the entirety of the world's atmosphere was poisoned, and the only clean air could be found inside the inflatable. In this way, they were also inverting readings of inside versus outside.
Ant Farm, Inflatocookbook. Image source (PDF).
This is a page from Ant Farm's widely copied and distributed Inflatocookbook, a guide to the design and making of inflatables. With illustrations drawn by the architects, as well as recipe-like text, the guide made these techniques available to almost anyone. Design-wise, it was a first stab at zine aesthetics, with drawings and text collaged onto layouts. The link above is to a complete pdf of the Inflatocookbook.
Reyner Banham and Francois Dallegret, Environment Bubble. Image source.
Banham is one of the most legendary technologists of architecture discourse. In this drawing, he adopted the inflatable zeitgeist to propose 'The All American Un-House," an inhabitation that contained at its center the Transportable Standard of Living Package, a console that operated mechanical services and entertainment. Those people within the house are none other than Reyner Banham, naked and copied across the interior of the bubble.
HAUS-RUCKER-CO, Pneumakosm. Image source.
This architecture collective was one of the most radical voices of the counterculture, eventually creating inflatables that ballooned from the sides of buildings as well as walking around cities in plastic helmets. This proposal is rather Matrix-like, with its lightbulb plug-ins to contain living humans.
Archigram, Suitaloon. Image source.
This is exactly what it sounds like: a plastic suit that inflates to become a balloon. Archigram actually successfully tested this idea, though for some reason, people were slow to adopt it.
Archigram, Cushicle. Image source.
A portmanteau of "cushion" and "vehicle," this also is exactly what it sounds like: a vehicle that inflates to become habitable. This project was intended for the ever-nomad, who could use it to travel around the world without ever going inside a building to spend the night.
Coop Himmelb(l)au, Villa Rosa. Image source.
This project explored the importance of the experience of space, rather than specified form. The inflatables vibrated, inflated, and were filled with smells in order to continuously alter the inhabitants reading of themselves in relation to their surroundings.