Amococo by Architects of Air

For those still in Pittsburgh, I REQUIRE you go to the Pittsburgh International Children’s Festival next to the Cathedral of Learning. For $5, you can spend time in Amococo, a “Luminaria” space designed by Architects of Air.

Some images (from my camera-phone):

Why the urgency to go there? It is only up for a few days (comes down on Sunday, 15 May 2011). Also, while it is marketed to kids, and it definitely has a playful attitude, it just might be the best building you will see this year. And if you’re not sure it’s a building, then I will rephrase and say that it might be the best space you’ll inhabit all year. It is, in its own way, more impressive than Frank Gehry and more subtle and delicate than Glass by SANAA.

First, some education. This is an inflatable structure–unlike pressurized tennis bubbles the air fills the structural members making stiff multi-directional and complex geometry resolving forces. The only materials are the plastic (like you find in a child’s ‘bounce house’) and occasional zippers to stitch the modules together. Stakes are driven into the ground to affix the building in place. There is no artificial lighting–the incredible colors you see emerge from daylight meeting brightly-colored plastic. As if this wasn’t amazing enough, the entire structure is unpacked and erected in 8 hours, and is deflated every night when the event closes. In the morning, the caretakers flip on the power, and the fans inflate the building in under 30 minutes. Instant architecture.

Some details:

The plastic is translucent, revealed by the shadow of a nearby tree and the yellow pinpoint of the sun poking through.

The plastic floor is laid on the ground, sometimes with some hay to help soften the surface interface. Footprints appear on soft ground areas and puckering wrinkles emerge at various complex seams. In the bottom right a zipper connection provides the only slight relief from an otherwise continuous surface.

But maybe the most interesting reason to visit and discuss relates to the conversation we have had all semester long in our first year studio. I sensed genuine discovery when we built a full-scale space in mere days with our recycled materials. Finally there was a hint to the elusive answers to “What is the difference between Form and Space?”

Here, inside the Amococo, there is a fabulous spatial experience, but if I asked what the form was, would it be easy to divine? Admittedly you cannot tell much from photographs–and this is an epically un-photographable space–but how is this space organized? Clearly the air-driven structure limits freeform designs as the material needs to resolve forces in very specific ways. Here is the outside:

And the Plan/Section:

The “Form image” from above and the “Form Drawing” in plan do much to help understand the physical and organizational structure. It is clear now that there is a symmetry and polyhedral and cellular organization. It is, according to the architects, inspired by Gothic, Islamic, and other world architecture geometries.

But these are not spaces, and cannot organize the ephemeral and ambulatory and binocular and sensorial inhabitation. The plan limits the 3D understanding; the aerial view–while very much the same shape as the interior surface–is inadequate in conveying the interior experience. Another key aspect to the spatial dominance of the building is that it is impossible to photograph. Its spaces so completely utilize all three dimensions, that the reduction to two dimensions via digital camera loses so much in the translation that it is almost as distant from the experience as the plan is.

So go to Amococo before it is gone. If you spent quality time marveling at the temporary structure you made for studio this semester, this will serve as a lovely companion piece.

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