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Bubbletecture: Step inside CasaBubble and Airclad inflatables

AirClad
A pair of exhibitors at next weekend's Dwell on Design show will have a new take on living in a bubble. AirClad, a British company that makes an inflatable pool house, and CasaBubble, a California firm that designs pneumatic backyard guest rooms, are trying to capitalize on the outdoor-living and small-space trends with structures built using little more than lightweight PVC and air.

CasaBubble 3“The idea was to be able to spend the night under the starry sky as comfortably as in a hotel bedroom,” said Frederic Richard, a native of France who splits his time between Paris and Santa Ynez, where he began distributing CasaBubble in April.

CasaBubble, pictured at right, is a sphere that holds its shape with air blown by quiet turbines, which use less than 100 watts of electricity per hour to run — roughly the equivalent of a light bulb. The sphere is fully pressurized in as little as 15 minutes, and the air inside is refreshed as often as seven times per hour, preventing humidity and condensation from clouding the bubble. The design has two doors, but only one can be open at a time or the structure will collapse.

CasaBubble was designed by Frenchman Pierre-Stephane Dumas and is manufactured in France. The portable living space is designed to be used as an outdoor guest room, a dining room, a children's play area or a pop-up shelter at the beach. It's available in 30 colors and five sizes, weighing 53 to 190 pounds.

The base of the bubble is made from fabric-covered PVC. The clear PVC on the sides and roof is UV-treated, to prevent discoloration, as well as fire treated. In warm locales such as Southern California, Richard recommends placing the bubble in the shade or using a shade wing provided by the company to prevent it from becoming too hot. The bubble is designed to withstand winds as strong as 43 mph, but anchors are recommended when winds exceed 13 mph. Prices range from $8,900 to $18,900.

CasaBubbleCasaBubble, shown in a larger size.

Bubbletecture, as it's known, has been around since at least the 1960s and early '70s, when the Ant Farm and Jersey Devil design practices created temporary art installations. The fad went as quickly as it came, only to be reimagined in the late '90s as a possible solution to homelessness: Exhaust from buildings' heating and air conditioning units was used to inflate temporary housing. In the mid- to late 2000s, pneumatic dwellings in more imaginative shapes were introduced as art installations. A number of manufacturers now provide inflatable structures as temporary event spaces, most often in a dome shape, but the Dwell showcase will highlight the concept as outdoor living rooms.

“There's something about bubbles and air and transparency in a structure that fascinate everyone,” said Michael Sylvester, managing director of Dwell on Design. “Bubbles are temporary things. They're not meant to work as structures. There's an improbability about them that almost seems like magic.”

Inflatable prefab has been on Dwell's radar for about five years, Sylvester said, but this is the first year the show is featuring it.

“Inflatables are becoming more and more accepted as a viable alternative to constructing buildings,” said Nick Crosbie, founder of AirClad, which will make its U.S. debut with an inflatable pool house inspired by the David Hockney painting “The Big Splash.”

The pool house premiering at Dwell is 32 feet long, 13 feet tall and 16 feet wide, and it's essentially a lightweight solar shade. It's made with white polyester-reinforced, solar-reflective PVC that is opaque and keeps the interior shaded. (Custom colors are available.) Unlike the CasaBubble, which pressurizes the living space with air, the AirClad pool house uses the air to inflate the base, sides and top of the structure but isn't enclosed with doors.

AirClad is an offshoot of Inflate, a company in Kent, England, that has been making custom temporary inflatable buildings since 1999 and has offered off-the-shelf inflatable designs for rent and for purchase since 2006, mostly “for the damp and cold U.K. market,” Crosbie said. Custom-made permanent AirClad inflatables are operating at a restaurant in central London and a car showroom in Antwerp, Belgium.

After making custom inflatables for clients in Australia and the Middle East, Crosbie said, “we've recognized there's a massive market for structures that protect you from the sun more than insulate you from the cold.”

ALSO:

Prefab OfficePodSmall prefabs

Dwell on Design home tours

The Global Garden: Multicultural L.A. seen through its landscapes

Marmol Radziner: Cool house in 360-degree interactive panoramas

-- Susan Carpenter

Photo credits: AirClad and CasaBubble

 
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