“Airchitecture. development and progress of pneumatic systems in architecture”,
Building technology, Department BEST, Politecnico di Milano, 2007
The research was carried out together with Chiara Geroldi

The aim of this research is to find the role of pneumatic structures in Architecture
The goal is to investigate the future of this technology and the possible fields of application.
The starting point of this research is the analyse of several pneumatic designs starting from the first applications in 1920.

The result of this survey shows that the pneumatic systems were first used in architecture thanks to its structural properties. Large spans
with little amount of material were possible using membranes and simple foundations.
In second instance, characteristics of lightness and transportability where appreciated, for example for emergency or temporary uses.

The research on this field reached high levels thanks Walter Bird, Frei Otto, and Buckemister Fuller. The structural splendour of pneumatic
systems was reached during the Osaka’s Expo of 1970. In addiction, a number of artists included pneumatics in their own works as
representation of the protest against society of the sixties and seventies. However, the survey shows clearly that, after that event and during
the decades of ‘80 and ’90, almost no improvement of pneumatic systems was done. The interest among architects and engineers on this topic
seems to be very low. On the other hand materials improved a lot and new way of design (using software) have been investigated.

Nowadays, we can notice again a widespread interest on pneumatic systems. However, at the present time, pneumatic is used, most of the times,
as a substitute of glass or thanks to its characteristics of transparency or translucency (ETFE applications for example, for aesthetics reasons).

Why and how did this change of applications occurred? Which role is playing the research about membranes and new materials? What will be
the future? What are the new possible applications of pneumatics systems? Did pneumatics lost the challenge with other material to become the
best construction system for large spans? Can pneumatic still stimulate the ideas of engineers or is definitely a matter for designer or artists?
What is the role of the architect in this affair?

Roberto Maffei,
Sep 29, 2010, 8:32 AM
Roberto Maffei,
Sep 29, 2010, 8:32 AM