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Project proposes air-filled fabric balloons as economical source of shade

Case Studies, Features | May 1, 2009 | By:

New York architects runner-up for MoMA’s seasonal P.S. 1 installation.

Taking their inspiration from the clouds, the young architects at Bade Stageberg Cox Architecture, Brooklyn, N.Y., propose creating the lightest and most economical source of shade for the annual Museum of Modern Art’s P.S.1 Young Architects Program: an air-filled fabric balloon. Actually, several giant balloon-like fabric donuts to be precise. BSC’s design — not the winning project — would use air to inflate seven fabric donut shapes over the concrete and gravel courtyard of the museum’s Brooklyn gallery. Hovering like clouds, “Blow Up” holds up shapes that are supported on fat inflated tubes of the same fabric, subdividing the courtyard into smaller gathering spaces.

“We started with the knowledge that the courtyard needed roughly 90 days of shade for the duration of the summer program,” says Martin Cox, BSC partner. “We tried to imagine, in the spirit of sustainability, a design that uses the least amount of mass and material and the most economical means of supporting the shading elements and came up with air and ultra-lightweight fabric.” The design weighs less than 2,000 pounds and in a deflated state can fit into the back of a pickup truck.

The architects have a checklist of good reasons to use fabric for the project besides the reduced material weight (and thus reduced embodied energy), that include reduced pollution from transporting the design because no heavy equipment is used, minimal site disturbance while setting up during construction, minimal waste of materials at the end of the summer run, and the structure can be redeployed to other sites at a later date.

According to BSC, “Blow Up” could be prefabricated offsite and installed in a matter of hours. For the duration of the installation, the small amount of energy needed to power the fans could be offset by electricity generated by wind at a site in upstate New York.

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