Boullée Balloon

[Image: “The world’s first inflatable folly is displayed at the headquarters of the Royal Institute of British Architects in London, England.” Hint: it’s not the woman sitting front-left. BBC].

In 1784, utopian designer and speculative architect Etienne-Louis Boullée designed a Cenotaph for Newton, or tomb for Isaac Newton. It was ridiculously huge, its dome pierced by small holes to shine as new constellations, illuminating visitors from above with artificial stars.

[Image: Etienne-Louis Boullée; more here (including a cool triangular version)].

Not to be outwitted by their fanciful neighbors across the Channel, however, Britain now has “the world’s first inflatable folly,” on display at the Royal Institute of British Architects.

Modeled after Boullée’s Cenotaph and named for a song by Joy Division, In a Lonely Place gives us a “7 meter inflated black sphere punctured by a half-timbered structure. Inside, a stair leads up to a viewing platform, from where the surrounding void is broken by small pinpricks of light, made by transparent panels cut into the sphere.”

These, too, are constellations – of a different kind: they’re maps to the stars of Hollywood, terrestrial residences of artificial stars, a Californian pantheon to guide us through the night.

Designed by FAT, the folly is up till 2 May 2006, so check it out! And you can see photographs of the folly under construction here.
Meanwhile, one of the first things this made me think of for some reason is a tool that may not even exist, but what I want to call a surgical balloon: you open up someone’s body (in a surgical context), insert the balloon, expand it, and this lifts away the surrounding tissue so that a safe operation can take place. I have no idea if this really exists, but it sounds quite useful.
So what I’m thinking is: could architects design small buildings, in the form of surgical tools, that are temporarily erected inside people’s bodies? A hip replacement that looks remarkably like the Barcelona Pavilion, for instance – or a medical device that references Boullée. Small versions of Boullée’s cenotaph begin appearing everywhere, in surgical theaters, worldwide. Inflated inside people’s bodies. Hissing.
The Boullée Balloon. It might happen.

[All unlabeled images in this post come courtesy of Sam Jacob/FAT].

6 thoughts on “Boullée Balloon”

  1. Hardly architecture this black baloon – looks like a saggy sad reference to something past…
    Maybe cool at burning man, but it’s a sad plastic revision of idealisim of the Enlightenment – much like our present current virtual culture – I guess it shows how empty a baloon of air really is….

  2. Damon – No idea. But I do know Stelarc’s stuff. Anon, sorry you don’t like it.

    And deepstructure, thanks! I knew it had to exist… Speculative surgical tools. A growth industry. (How’s the writing?)

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