December 6, 2005
A White Castle Afloat
A temporary artwork at Art Basel Miami Beach brings attention to the area’s inflated architecture boom.
At a private home on the west side of Miami Beach during the city’s Art Basel, Venezuelan-born architect Luis Pons introduced his temporary pavilion, “The Fabulous Floating Inflatable Villa.” Here, in the United States’ best known tropical setting, and juxtaposed against a forest of tall cranes and yet-to-be finished high rise buildings, Pons’s point is terribly simple—“The city is not responding to the environment,” says Pons, “There are no colonnades, no shade for pedestrians.” Docked off the west side of the aspiring urban residential development Aqua, the 30x30x25 foot Palladio-inspired inflatable structure is transported by a flatbed barge to its many strategic liquid locations off the coast of downtown Miami during the four-day international art show.
Pons hopes to provoke careful thought and action among builders in south Florida. He says the community is consumed with modern and classical aesthetical styles without regard to their underlying principles that respond to environmental conditions. While the idea is simple, it seems far from a priority to the building community across the bottom tip of the sunshine state. “It would be a perfect time to make a change,” Pons insists. And there are precedents to refer to—“There was no such thing as air-conditioning in the 1940s and 50s, so architects were forced to find design solutions to the existing conditions,” says Pons. His physical reference to the Villa Rotunda is emblematic of this kind of solution—a structure that focuses on the importance of the space between indoors and outdoors—the kind of space that Pons thinks is neglected in current designs he sees up and down the coast.
The architect conceived the project a year ago, and the building was stitched together in three weeks, using the same kind of nylon that is used to make sails. The final structure is reminiscent of the inflatable castles found in urban street festivals and rural county fairs—where children bounce around while their parents hold onto their partially eaten candy apples. Hopefully the citizens and building community will take Pons’s thoughts seriously. Miami is a city of excess, easily ignoring demonstrations like this that advocate a change of thinking. But perhaps when paired with rising energy costs and easily implementable ideas, south Florida can be convinced that Pons’s inflatable premise is more than just hot air.