I recently went to an interesting exhibition with my man, entitled Cloud Cities and featuring bubbles hanging in the air, lying on the ground, overgrown or growing and some of them somewhat inhabitable. If you are in Berlin, you can still check out the exhibition at the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum, where it runs until January 15, 2012.
The bubbles were all designed by Tomás Saraceno, an Argentina-born artist, who currently resides – like me – in Frankfurt am Main. He originally studied architecture and draws inspiration from soap bubbles and spider webs, which are influences you can definitely see in the featured exhibition, which is apparently the largest single exhibition of his works to date. Cloud Cities attempts to present a vision for the future, as to how people might or could live, and how the conception of space and humankinds’ place in it transforms and changes.
The picture right above shows you the two bubbles you can actually enter (if you look hard enough you can make out a person in the bubble on the left). It’s a fun experience, somewhere in between a trampoline and walking on air, all the while being visible to other visitors who walk or sit below you.
Now, his ideas are not entirely original (but yeah, what is?). The idea of see-through bubbles as living spaces with a focus on relaxation and new perspectives on the environment that surrounds us has already been taken and transferred into the outside world by the likes of Archigram 40 years ago:
But there are also more recent and more elaborate versions of the idea that come very close to what we encountered in the exhibition. These are the relaxation bubbles that bubbletree came up with:
Bubbletree derive their name from one of their products: they produce bubble-shaped tree-homes and offer to build them into your tree of choice.
All of the above visions – from art in the museum to cozy home in a tree – share one problem though: they might give us glimpses on futuristic living concepts, but they don’t really hit us with the organic hammer. Their extensive use of vinyl and reliance on electric fans doesn’t qualify them as sustainable. Even more so, they don’t provide answers to fundamental questions of energy efficiency, of how to heat or cool the living space, on how to connect it with the infrastructure we desire – water, energy, sanitation.
Well, from bubbles in trees it is only a small step to UFOs in trees. And this particular UFO makes the extra step to sustainable materials and conception.
It is one of the rooms of the Treehotel in Harads near the Lule River in Sweden. The UFO room was prefabricated offsite and then transported via roads to its final destination. It is cast in durable composite material and super lightweight, but strong and sustainable so it can easily be lofted in the trees. Hotel guests access it by a retractable staircase and a hatch door, and in the 30 sq meter room there is a double bed, couches on the perimeter, a composting toilet and a dining area. Porthole windows look out on the surrounding forest scene. The Treehotel owners and staff commit to the surrounding environment and tries to run their establishment in the most sustainable way possible by having all of the rooms built by local companies to minimize impact on the site and hang them in a way that does not harm the trees. Environmentally safe materials are used in the rooms’ construction, which all feature insulation, underfloor heating, LED lighting, water efficient fixtures, and composting toilets. Treehotel sources its electricity from hydroelectric power and uses only eco-friendly cleaning products.
Applying some of the same principles as the UFO room, there are the Free Spirit Spheres that also function as guest rooms on Vancouver Island in Canada. They bring more bubble and less outer space, however, they also bring less sustainability in that some of them are made of fibreglass, while those made of wood (following traditional sailboat-construction techniques) are sometimes covered in a layer of vinyl.
But of course bubbles don’t only have to hang on and in trees. There is a variety of settings to imagine them in. Keeping it real, Buckminster Fuller placed his Fly Eye Dome simply on the Ground.
Which brings us to a similar concept taken further – and presenting heaps of potential for organic approaches that focus on sustainable materials and maximum energy efficiency. Voilá, Pierre Cardin’s Palais Bulles (bubble house), located in Cannes, France. Just imagine that structure built with all natural materials, paying special attention to making it a passive house and install some solar-panels and the like. Dream come true.
All the concepts presented so far leave us with one question: Aren’t bubbles and water the combination one would naturally expect? Eriksson Architects LTD from Finland answer in the affirmative and present their vision for a new town built outside Beijing in the Mentougou Eco Valley, where they combine research institutes for modern science and innovation with environmentally friendly and eco-efficient urban living concepts in collaboration with Finnish ecological experts Eero Paloheimo Eco City Ltd.
With goals of carbon neutrality, respect for the environment, water and energy conservation, renewable energy, and housing and amenities for all employees and visitors, the project aims to reduce the environmental footprint of the city to one third of that of a typical city of similar size. And most interesting for us here: their water institute comes in the shape of bubbles.
I wanna stick to my own tradition and close this post with a ted-talk on architecture, this time by the Danish architect Bjarke Ingels. He does not talk about designing bubbly homes or think about how to live in bubbles, but he gives a mind-blowing insight on the visionary powers (and stunning realities) of current architecture.