The Inflatable Utopia - Histories - Andreu World

The Inflatable Utopia

Anyone who has designed or produced a chair knows how difficult it is to conceive a structure that supports the weight of a corpulent person while seeming as light as possible. You must disguise how the powerful forces of pressure and torsion act. For millennia, chairs had four legs. Using steel pipe, designers of the Modern Movement managed with two and in the mid-nineteen-fifties, Eero Saarinen managed to get his “Tulip” chair to stand on one leg in such a way that it took the appearance of a pedestal. The next challenge would be to design a chair without legs. That is, a chair that was held in the air. 





The dream came true in the nineteen-sixties, when it was possible to build efficient inflatable structures with PVC film welded by high frequency. But in fact, hot air balloons, zeppelins and lifeboats were already, for some time, well experienced inflatable structures. What the new technologies allowed was economic and large-scale manufacturing. The perfected pneumatic devices gave wings to the imagination of the architects and designers of the Pop Movement who looked for constructive system alternatives to concrete and steel that were the expression of their rejection of modern academicism. The inflatables were an ideal vehicle to communicate the concepts of the ephemeral and transient and, in many aspects, one of their most original manifestations. Buildings and pneumatic objects were consistent with the desire of young people to free themselves from the traditional concepts of solidity and permanence.


During the Pop Era, the air structures were "in the air" in such a way that the Museum of Modern Art in Paris commissioned the exhibition Structures Gonflables from the group Utopie, curiously in the same year that the student revolution erupted: 1968. Utopie was a group of young French architects, led by the Marxist-oriented urbanist Henri Lefebvre, who questioned the mediocrity of urbanism, modern architecture and design by proposing the construction of inflatable pavilions and cities that could be assembled and disassembled in a matter of hours, anywhere and without notice. Three members of the group – Jean Aubert, Jean-Paul Jungmann and Antoine Stinco – created the company A.J.S. Aerolande to edit and market their air-supported furniture. Unlike the British group Archigram, which also proposed inflatable cities but remained within the graphic utopia, according to their social vision, Aerolande wanted to bring their designs to people.


One of their most successful and imitated furniture pieces was the Tore armchair, launched in 1968. Structurally it consisted of two salsichas (sausages) of air that surrounded a pouf, also full of air. The plastic was transparent in such a way that allowed visualization of the emptiness. That coupled with the absence of colors and the simplicity of the act of inflation generated a rounded furniture piece, very fun, quite uncomfortable and as ephemeral as the ideas of its creators.