Thesis ID: CBB905321606

Leaky Systems: Inflatable Architecture and the Post-Lunar Imaginary (1965-1974) (2023)


NASA’s Apollo lunar program, which saw twelve humans occupy a new world, revealed at once that the Earth is a finite resource, and that humanity has no realistic alternative. The existential impact of this revelation on architecture has yet to be fully addressed in discourse. This dissertation contends that precisely this impact was captured in practice by inflatable architecture produced in Europe and the United States between 1965 and 1974. Inflatable structures are creaturely, habitable plastic environments that are animated by continuous air flow from a connected fan. Architectural historians have recognized that inflatables borrowed the aesthetics of the Space Age, but studies largely generalize them as playful bubbles that embraced mobility, impermanence, and expendability vis a vis the cultural turmoil of the 1960s. This study is the first to examine inflatables in tandem with the apogee of the two-century negotiation with air in spaceflight that began with manned ballooning in 1783 and culminated in the 1969 lunar landing. During this period, understanding of physiology and enclosed systems improved enough to protect the body from hostile space environments. This project argues that, at the pinnacle of developing enclosed systems of life support, the porous, leaky inflatable architecture insisted on the entanglement of the human subject with the Earthly environment. Through this, inflatables offered a critical reflection about the durability of life on a limited Earth. This dissertation is organized around two case studies through which it develops the notion of the “post-lunar imaginary” as a habitable model of symbiosis by design, which illustrates how architecture can better cohabitate with the systems and organisms of Earth. Informed by interviews and analysis of drawings, images, and videos, as well as recent studies of non-human phenomena, the project theorizes the work of English artist Graham Stevens and the American architecture collaborative Ant Farm. It closely studies the media of the inflatable—its plastic membrane and air— and its operations as a social actor to reveal the inflatable as an agent that resists, invites, or otherwise mediates between the human and their surroundings. Together, the assemblage of human, membrane, and exterior becomes the more-than-human subject central to the post-lunar imaginary. The domain of architecture shifts from being an extension of the ground, or the constructed figure in the dyad figure-ground, to an articulated area of the atmosphere. Architecture is no longer mere structure, but a form of biological being, life itself.

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Authors & Contributors
Alagona, Peter Spencer
Bloor, David
Bower, Shannon Stunden
Goedeke, T. L.
Höhler, Sabine
Lamberini, Daniela
Agricultural History
Social Studies of Science
Berichte zur Wissenschaftsgeschichte
Circumscribere: International Journal for the History of Science
East Asian Science, Technology and Society: An International Journal
Environment and History
University of California, Los Angeles
University Press of Kansas
Utah State University Press
Forum Editrice Universitaria Udinese
Natural resource management
Water resource management
Environmental history
Time Periods
20th century, late
21st century
20th century, early
United States
Tuscany (Italy)
California (U.S.)
Great Plains (North America)
Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) (Australia)

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