Mirazozo coloured inflatable structure a 2011 Edinburgh Fringe highlight
Architects of Air bring their latest inflatable structure to Edinburgh
This article is from 2011.
Picture the scene – you walk inside a Fringe venue, and find no actors, no musicians, no dancers, in fact no performers at all. You'd be forgiven for wanting your money back. Unless, that is, your ticket is for an Architects of Air creation – because, as one critic wrote in 1992, 'if ever the show was the venue itself, this is it'.
Nottingham-based company Architects of Air has been making large-scale inflatable structures for almost 20 years, and its latest venture, Mirazozo, is taking up residence at this year's Edinburgh Festival Fringe. The vast 'luminarium' is made of thin, grey plastic with colourful translucent seams, to create a unique sensory experience of light and sound.
'The daylight filters through the coloured parts and reflects on the grey inside,' explains managing director Mado Ehrenborg. 'People sometimes find it very difficult to believe there is no artificial lighting, because even when it's cloudy, an amazing radiance comes through, which means we can use it in any weather. And the ambient soundtrack isn't intrusive, it's just there to help you forget what's outside.'
Slipping off their shoes, visitors walk through a labyrinth of domes and corridors, or simply lie back and soak up the atmosphere. Children have compared Mirazozo to a rocket ship, adults to a cathedral. 'What's interesting is that everybody has their own experience and feeling about being inside the structure,' says Ehrenborg. 'Personally I feel a bit like I'm inside a massive, breathing animal. Because when the door opens and closes as people come in, the structure goes down very slightly, then blows back up, so the wall moves with you as you lean against it.'
Remarkably, given its robustness, the material is less than one millimetre thick, meaning a few gentle rules have been put in place to handle more boisterous visitors. 'The plastic has been designed specifically for us,' says Ehrenborg, 'so it's thin enough to let the light through but resistant enough so that people can walk around, lie on it and lean against it. But we do ask people not to run, bounce or slide on it and explain that the structure has been handmade and is fragile.'
Architects of Air make the bold statement that no two visits to Mirazozo are the same. Partly, this is due to weather and time of day, but mostly it's down to whoever happens to walk in the door at the same time as you. 'It really depends on the people who are inside the structure and that you're sharing the space with,' says Ehrenborg. 'That's a very strong part of it. Because if you're sharing the experience with a lot of children, or if you're sharing it only with adults, it will have a very different feel.'
This has led to the company running the occasional 'adults only' session, because as Mirazozo's designer Alan Parkinson says, your response to the structure depends very much on age. 'Basically, adults go in and feel as though they can relax and slow down,' he says. 'But the majority of children have exactly the opposite reaction.'
Parkinson named this latest structure after his own two children, Nico and Zoe. 'Mira is Spanish for look,' he explains. 'And my wife obliged me to incorporate our children's names into the structures. So far we've had Amococo, Amozozo, Mirazozo and the next one's going to be Miracoco – but that will be the last one, because it's getting a bit repetitive.'
To date, Architects of Air has created and toured 15 structures, winning fans the world over. For Parkinson, each structure is an 'experiment', pushing the boundaries of what both he and the materials are capable of. Which is pretty much how it all started, when Parkinson was working with a group of offenders in Nottingham during the early 1980s. They built an inflatable mattress, it had some flaws, he tried to improve upon it – and so it went on. Until in 1990, he created Eggopolis – a structure large enough to house a dance company.
'I'd been running a community project,' recalls Parkinson. 'Then the director of the Edinburgh Children's Festival saw a video of a dance company using Eggopolis to perform in, and was interested in what he saw in the background so invited us up. Until then, I hadn't thought that the public would pay just to go into one of the structures.'
But pay they did, and in 1992, Architects of Air was born. Parkinson has been creating inflatable installations ever since, where the structure itself is the star of the show, rather than something happening inside it. To what does he attribute his creations' success?
'It's very womb-like,' says Parkinson, 'and there's something innate in human beings about going into a tent or a cave or something like that – that sense of enclosure. I think what the inflatable does, because of the roundness of the environment, is feel very, very reassuring.'
Mirazozo in numbers
● 0.5 millimetres - Mirazozo is made of material that's less than half a millimetre thick.
● 3 years - The average lifespan of an Architects of Air sculpture.
● 4 months - How long it took to make Mirazozo, with 6 people working on it full-time.
● 6 hours - How long it takes to assemble the structure on the first day.
● 20 minutes - The time that visitors have to explore the piece.
● 80 people - The maximum number allowed inside the structure at the same time.
● 1200sq metres - The amount of space that Mirazozo occupies. It is 48 metres long and 29 metres wide.
Mirazozo, Assembly George Square, 0131 623 3030, 3–14 Aug, 10am–8.30pm; 15–29 Aug, 9.30am–8pm, £5.