It was big in the 1960s, made a come-back a few years ago, and now is about to be blown up to undreamed of proportions: the inflatable has taken off. From puffball beginnings - water wings, lilos, squiggy chairs, bouncy castles - inflatables are about to acquire status as serious interior elements: versatile, economic, theatrical and practical.
At the offices of new Internet company CS Sportal, a white switchback inflatable raft snakes its way over the heads of the rapidly expanding staff. A team of 40 when ACQ Architects, a recently formed young practice, was commissioned to refurbish two floors at the top of a glass-roofed extension to an old Battersea Bakery, has now grown to 100 in eight months.
The client wanted a strong 'wow factor' on the main production floor; something loud enough to complement the ubiquitous TV monitors and football paraphernalia scattered on chairs and desks. 'The maggot,' as the staff have named their inflatable suspended ceiling, produces the desired 'wow' effect, and does a lot more besides.
Hal Currey, project architect explains:
'Originally we had it draped down as two partitions defining a 'soft' central zone opposite the entrance, but we had to pull it back up to create more space. It helps reduce glare from the glass roof, it has proved good acoustically because it counteracts all the hard industrial surfaces, like the epoxy resin floor, and in winter it blocks down-draughts.' When lights are fixed above it, it will change colour, but for the moment it is a neutral opaque white, made of class O PVC by Inflate.
The canopy comes in two sections, each made up of 5m ribbed segments, joined by nodular line supports. They are suspended from the roof trusses by cables, and can be winched down for cleaning. The larger of the two sections weighs around 50kg, the smaller 30kg. Internal fans ensure a constant degree of inflation.
ACQ and Inflate are currently working on a spiralling meeting room wall at the Truman Brewery site in east London. The idea looks set to become as popular as fabric roofs - a welcome slice of the fairground infiltrating the office space.
CLIENT Sportal ARCHITECT ACQ Architects: Avery Agnelli, Hal Currey, Kim Quazi ENVIRONMENTAL ENGINEER BDSP Partnership STRUCTURAL ENGINEER Alan Connisbee QUANTITY SURVEYOR Boyden and Company MAIN CONTRACTOR Constructive Interiors CREDITS ELECTRICAL ECL SUBCONTRACTORS AND SUPPLIERS electrical ECL; mechanical Coolair; inflatable canopy Inflate; light reflectors Gap Sails; epoxy resin floor Lasar Contracts; joinery John F Patrick; light fittings iGuzzini