German architecture firm crafts multi-sensory, inflatable projects

Blowing Up

German architecture firm crafts multi-sensory, inflatable projects

The Templehof Airport in South Berlin has a history of giving. In 1948, Operation Vittles, also known as the “Berlin Airlift,” saw American aircraft carry 80 tons of food into Tempelhof. Shortly after, the famed Operation Little Vittles saw renowned “Candy Bomber” Gail Halvorsen drop candy via parachute to children living nearby. Many pilots soon followed in his footsteps. The airport is now no longer in service, though more recently, it was used as one of Europe’s largest refugee camps. This inspired local architecture firm Plastique Fantastique to install an over-sized inflatable dinghy, reminiscent of those many refugees had been using to get to the continent, at the airport.

Called LIVEBOAT, the firm, who are well known for their inflatable installations, said that dingy offers space for dialogue surrounding the refugee crisis. The boat serves as a visual pun of being a dinghy at an airport is big enough for people to walk inside. Visitors can walk through the boat and on their way discover multi-lingual sound bites of Homer’s Odyssey as well as “fragments of refugee experiences.”

Started in 1999, Plastique Fantastique comprises two architects, a set designer, a sound artist, a sculptor, and an intern. As their name suggests, plastic is the material of choice, selected due to its low cost and only needing a fan to form a space. “The fact that we used plastic, was just usually the fact that we had no money,” said co-founder Marco Canevacci. Initially, in their first works, they sought to create warm places to stay through the use of a hot-air blower.

Since their founding though, their work has, in many ways, continued to expand. Drawing on the pneumatic and inflatable volumes found in Ant Farm’s Inflatocookbook, they rely on their diverse knowledge base of sound artistry, set design, and sculpture to integrate contemporary mediums into their work.

One project, SOUND of LIGHT is a notable example of this. The synesthetic sculpture analyses and interprets sunlight, “dynamically” transforming it into audio frequencies. Situated in the former music pavilion in Hamm, Germany, a high-end digital camera placed on top of the structure films the sky above, dividing it into red, green, blue and cyan, magenta, yellow.

Commonly known as “RGB” and “CMY” this selection is derived from how colors are formed on-screen and in print (with black the only color missing). Subsequently, the two groups of three colors “receive different frequencies and convert them from visible to audible sensory input.

To produce the sound, woofers placed at the bottom of each color column turn the space into a “giant vibrating loudspeaker.” “Visitors can also discover their own concert by changing their point of view—an individual spectrum,” the firm says on their website.

Sound is once again a key component of one of the latest works, BREATHING VOLUME.

Breathing walls constantly swell and retract, giving the impression of being inside a living, breathing organism. Subwoofers at the back “transform the pulsing bass frequencies into the soul of the organism,” while four synchronized ventilators work alongside to induce the movement of the walls and sense of breathing.

Another project, installed in 2011 in Neukölln, not far from Templhof, aims to “embrace the Passage’s “waistline” and façade”. Called RINGdeLUXE, the inflatable golden ring wraps an archway as part of the “48 hours Neukölln” art festival.

RETTUNGSRING (lifesaver) is a ring that, instead of clinging to a building, floats on the river river Spree in Berlin’s Treptow district. “Once inside of the structure, the visitor enjoyed the full experience of walking, sitting and relaxing on the water.”

Those interested can further explore their diverse body of work here.