“Somewhere between a womb and a cathedral” is how the Architects of Air website describes “The Luminarium.” “The Luminarium” sits in Charlotte’s Ballantyne Backyard, a looming inflatable figure that rises in multicolor domes and stretches across the park’s field.
The exhibit, which is part of the Charlotte International Arts Festival, is an inflatable maze that visitors can wander around through. The different rooms, hallways and alcoves are illuminated with hues of light made by sunlight feeding through a special plastic that acts like stained glass. Soft and calming music plays as audiences roam the structure. The walls sway in the wind, making it feel like the walls around you are breathing.
The Niner Times got to speak with the creator of “The Luminarium,” Alan Parkinson, about his art career and the creation of the exhibit in Charlotte.
“I would describe my career as accidental. In 1982, I got a job for half a day a week driving offenders and criminals who had done kind of lightweight crimes. They had to serve their punishment by doing X amount of hours of community service. The typical kind of activities would be painting and decorating social housing or looking after elderly people’s gardens. But what I was employed to work on was a project that had just started.”
Parkinson said that he and the offenders were put to work constructing a large inflatable mattress. “It was designed to be taken around to inner city groups as a play facility for the kids, and also to centers for people with special needs.”
He worked in this area for nearly seven years before turning his inflatable architecture into a traveling art experience. “By 1989, it developed into a proposed project where we work for a center for adults with special needs who were actors. We created a structure that was like doing a touring promenade performance inside. It toured in the U.K. in 1990. With the professional actors and the amateur actors from the center for special needs.”
After this experience, Parkinson and his team continued to build inflatable structures, combining architectural expertise and experimental designs focusing on color and atmosphere. Today, one of Parkinson’s many projects has become an exhibit in the Charlotte International Arts Festival, which is home to over 200 different attractions.
“This particular structure [in Charlotte] is designed to modulate color in a very specific way, and on top of each dome, there are these colored finials,” Parkinson said. “The particular influences in terms of the architecture were more to do with existing structures that I suppose were designed to elevate the spirits, such as Gothic cathedrals or Islamic architecture. Islamic architecture in particular, with its particular geometric bases, worked really well for me to reinterpret into the building blocks of pneumatic architecture.”