in 1972, antioch college built an experimental "pneumatic bubble campus" over an acre of land in columbia maryland. the campus was designed by a group of students under the supervision of archict rurik f. ekstrom, and the idea was that the campus could be deflated and the shell and parts could potentially be relocated to a permanent site. unfortunately, due to a lack of funds, even though the design was fully realized, it was dismantled a year later, never to be built (or inflated) again.
in terms of a learning environment, there were many innovative approaches conceived by the architect with the students in 1971 : the interior space was completely modular with both open and enclosed spaces (including small geodesic domes to enclose lectures and create private space), the interior was still connected to the outside world and thus could be continually landscaped and re-landscaped (and reshaped), and the vinyl skin of the dome could be rolled back in various areas so that inside and outside became interchangeable depending on weather.
rurik's approach, which allowed the students to make major decisions in the design and production of a facility they would potentially inhabit, hearkens back to the ideals of the bauhaus, and set a precedent for a future that would eventually pave the way for things like the maverick workings of samuel mockbee's rural studio.
in the only text on the project i've seen (in an old issue of the walker's design quarterly publication - where the above photos are from), ronald beckman writes about the antioch college bubble as a hugely successful experiment because of the experiences it offered the students. even though the structure existed for only a year, beckman states,"...it still exists as an idea. it was never intended to be more than an objectification of an idea. the antioch college bubble was "event architecture". the fact that it could happen, and the experience of that happening is a significant matter for education... there is a difference between understanding and knowledge. to understand an abstraction intelligently does not guarantee personal ability. to know a reality requires an experience of that reality. the antioch experience allowed a student to know in first-hand terms the realities of design and construction, to feel and see the abstractions of "pounds of pressure", "quality of light", or "density of usable space."... many people bemoaned the fact that the antioch pneumatic campus was never used... what makes it unique is that fact - it was a model built at full scale...the lesson of antioch is at the same time aesthetic, social, technological, practical, and ecological... participation must replace observation..."
remarkably a google search on ekstrom yielded almost nothing on the architect, and absolutely nothing on the project. in fact i couldn't even figure out if ekstrom is still alive or not. i did find this great little video from 2005, shot in virginia during what seems to have been a remembrance of ekstrom and his architecture, so perhaps he passed away, but his firm does come up in a google search. anyone out there have any more info?
Labels: architecture, bubbles, pneumatic forms, rurik f. ekstrom