Architects of Air and the Luminaria

Joana Lazarova by Joana Lazarova,
17 August 2011

              'There is a place. Like no place on Earth. A land full of wonder, mystery, and danger! Some say to survive it: You need to be as mad as a hatter. Which luckily I am.'   -The Mad Hatter, Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll                

                                        Amacoco by Architects of Air / Image: Narelle Trottman

This week we chose to show you a series of projects that use the manipulation of form, material, light and colour as fundamental tools to create an exciting environment: a mind-engaging type of architecture that electrifies through an experience of the senses.


Since 1992, the “luminaria” projects by Architects of Air have made over 500 appearances in 37 countries. These monumental, inflatable structures, designed to generate a sense of wonder at the beauty of light and colour.
 A luminarium is a dazzling maze of winding paths and soaring domes where Islamic architecture, Archimedean solids and Gothic cathedrals meld into an inspiring mix of design and engineering.
From Berlin to Brooklyn, Hong Kong to Hawaii, Taipei to Tel Aviv, Sao Paulo to the Sydney Opera House and now France, the colossal walk-in sculptures by Architects of Air have enchanted audiences around the world. We spoke to Mado Ehrenborg from Architects of Air – learn more about the projects from them:



The luminaria are designed by company founder, Alan Parkinson, who started experimenting with pneumatic sculptures in the I980s. They are made at the company base in Nottingham (UK) using a plastic produced solely for Architects of Air. Only four colours of plastic are used to generate a great diversity of subtle hues.
Every luminarium is an original design. All the luminaria are modular and can be configured accor- ding to different site requirements. Each luminarium is made up of around 20 elements that are zipped together on site to typically occupy an area of 1000 square metres.


Mirazozo by Architects of Air/ Image: James Morgan


Image: Liz Steel

Easy to erect, laying out the structure and anchoring can take as little as 4 hours then, in just 20 minutes, the luminarium is inflated to its monumental size. The domes rise up to 10 metres high and provide the main focal points. The convoluted tunnels determine the journey the visitor will take. The luminaria also feature at least 30 ‘pods’ that are alcoves where people can sit and relax out of the way of the other visitors.


Mirazozo by Architects of Air/ Image: Jason Nakrani

'Visitors remove their shoes before entering an airlock', explain the architects.'Once inside they can wander freely or just lay back and enjoy the ambience of the structure. The first reaction is often one of delight at the unexpec- ted beauty of the light.
The radiance of the daylight transmitted by the coloured pvc of the luminarium is surprising in its lumi- nosity and makes a direct impact on the senses.
Through labyrinthine tunnels and cavernous domes, visitors move in a medium of saturated and subtle hues. Vivid reflections of liquid colour spill across the curved walls creating a world apart from the normal and everyday.


                 Mirazozo by Architects of Air/ Image: Peter Murphy

Visitors are excited to discover how different colours blend or resonate; how they transform faces and clothing. Some explore, following their maps through the maze immersing themselves in radiant colour.
No two visits to a structure are alike as the atmosphere inside alters according to changing weather and changing light outside. The experience is also affected by how the public inhabits the luminarium.


Miracoco by Architects of Air/ Image: Ian Allen

It is a paradox that such a stimulating environment can simultaneously be so calming. Many people find the luminaria a place for rest or meditation.
Visitors try to put their experience into words – comparing the experience to like walking through a stained glass window, like a futuristic space station, or like inside a gigantic strange breathing organic but comforting creature.


Amococo by Architects of Air/ Image: Daniel Muilenburg

Sometimes the structure may be animated by a musician or a storyteller but, more often, the space is enjoyed in its simplicity. As such, it is appreciated by people of all ages from all backgrounds.
In the course of the exhibition as many as 2000 visitors per day may have passed through the luminarium to have been touched by a sense of wonder at the beauty of light and colour.


Mirazozo by Architects of Air/Image: Petra Glorie / Europhotographics

Architects of Air has toured its luminaria around the world since 1992. They have been seen in a great variety of contexts: at festivals of music, theatre, science & dance, at arts centres & museums, at community, corporate & school events, architecture & design related events, etc. The luminaria are also presented as a stand-alone event e.g. as part of a civic summer programme.'
The best way to get an understanding about the practicalities of presenting a luminarium is to experience one for yourself! Look up here. There you will find regularly updated information to enable you to make a visit or to take the opportunity to join a tour.

In 2011, Architects of Air has built a new luminarium and are touring 5 luminaria:

Mirazozo                            Amococo                            Levity II                               Levity III                              Miracoco


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