Bubbles and balloons often evoke nostalgia, recalling the whimsy of childhood parties and bouncy castles. But inflatable design has a much longer history (yes, even longer than your blow-up chair from 1997), particularly in aviation.
The first inflatable was the hot-air balloon in Enlightenment-era France. At the turn of the 20th century, the first Zeppelin was launched, and manned helium-balloon flights followed. In the late 1940s and ’50s, inflatable structures shielded military radar antennae from the elements. By the 1960s, inflatable materials had caught the eye of radical young visionaries looking to upend architecture and design.
A new volume published by Phaidon, Bubbletecture: Inflatable Architecture and Design
(2019), surveys these lively and surreal inflatables in architecture, design, fashion, and art, from the 1960s to today. They are often ephemeral in nature, such as Leopold Banchini and Daniel Zamarbide’s black PVC nightclub, or the site-specific “pillow interventions” that Geraldo Zamproni
has staged around the world. And—like Anna Maria Cornelia’s Life Dress (2012), a garment that envelops wearers in a literal bubble of personal space—they can be quite tongue-in-cheek, too.
All are representative of the avant-garde of their time, according to the book’s author, architect Sharon Francis. “By their very nature, [inflatable designs] are an expression of advancement; a reimagining of traditional forms,” she writes.
Below, Francis describes 11 key examples of Bubbletecture from the last two decades.