145-Foot Inflatable Dome to Rise in Nation’s Hot Air Capital, D.C.

Architecture firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro returns to its roots with a big, bold, experimental design. But inflatable architecture isn’t exactly new, as these eight projects prove.


Washington, D.C. isn’t exactly a hotbed of architectural experimentation. But that’s about to change: Diller Scofidio + Renfro is planning to build a giant, 145-foot inflatable add-on to the somber Hirschorn Museum. As The New York Times reports:


[The] inflatable meetinghall that would swell out of the top of the internal courtyard of themuseum, which sits on the Mall midway between the White House and theCapitol.

…the translucent fabric structure, which would be installedtwice a year, for May and October, and be packed away in storage therest of the time, would transform one of the most somber buildings onthe mall into a luminous pop landmark.

It could be the most uplifting work of civic architecture built in the capital since I. M. Pei completed his East Building of the National Gallery of Art more than 30 years ago…Mr. Koshalek’s vision would challenge that mentality by usingperforming arts, film series and conferences to foster a wide-rangingpublic debate on cultural values.

Could be amazing. Lately, DS+R has been a darling of big-time architecture, having completed New York’s Highline park, and Julliard/Lincoln Center revamp.


But this new project heralds a return to their scrappier, more experimental roots, best exemplified by their spectacular Blur Building, which was really a scaffold of misting devices that created a floating cloud atop a lake in Switzerland.

But DS+R isn’t pioneering inflatable architecture–though the Hirschorn project’s scale would be unprecedented, people have been experimenting with it for 40 years. Here’s eight examples drawn from our previous history of inflatable architecture.

In may, New York held a series of parties inside an inflatable structure created by Raumlabor:

inflatable dome in New York

But backing up a bit: The idea of inflatable architecture began in the 1960s. Here’s one by the visionary, almost forgotten American firm Jersey Devil; below that is a 1970 project by Ant Farm–whom you probably know from their outdoor installation Cadillac Ranch, which featured ten cars buried halfway into the ground:

Jersey Devil and Ant Farm

Below, the artist Michael Rakowitz created ParaSITE, in 1988. Intended as a wry joke about the waste products which we never think about, it used the HVAC exhaust from buildings to inflate the structure:

Michael Rakowitz paraSITE

Alexis Rochas, an architecture professor at SCI-Arc, created this installation in 2006. Computers were used to cut more precise shapes; Rochas had the idea that in the future, we’d pack our homes into a suitcase:

Alexis Rochas installation

In 2006, Rem Koolhaas and engineer Cecil Balmond created what I personally think is the best pavilion ever seen on the grounds of the Serpentine Gallery in London (the museum invites an architect to erect a new temporary structure every summer):

Rem Koolhaas and Cecil Balmond pavilion

Norwegian firm mmw architects created this installation in 2005, to connect four separate buildings:

mmw architects

Also in 2005, Kengo Kuma created this Tea House on the grounds of museum in Frankfurt:

Kengo Kuma Tea House

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For more info, check out this post at Archidose, or our previous history of inflatable architecture.


[Image of Raumlabor project by laverrue]


About the author

Cliff was director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.