WATCH: Immerse yourself in Alan Parkinson’s giant inflatable cathedrals of light

Think of a giant bouncy castle complex. Now, imagine one where rather than bouncing on top you enter a honeycomb catacomb fantasia inside.

English designer Alan Parkinson’s ‘Arborealism Luminarium’, currently installed in Christchurch’s Cathedral Square, is portable dream architecture to get lost in. Thin layers of plastic bathing you in colour below cupola, minarets and soft stained-glass windows. 

Erecting the massive structure, which rises nine metres high and covers about 1000 square metres in Christchurch’s high winds and hot temperatures was challenging, Parkinson tells Culture 101’s Mark Amery in an upcoming interview.

“We’ve experienced quite a lot of extremes, I think. I do have a feeling though, that Christchurch has been for us a little bit more extreme than we used to. And that combination of high heat and and wind is perhaps the most challenging kind of combinations that weather can throw at us.”

Architects of Air installation Christchurch

The Arborealism Luminarium in Christchurch’s Cathedral Square.
Photo: Screenshot

While impressively large at full inflation, the Luminarium packs down onto seven pallets, with a volume of 12 cubic metres.

“The volume, when packed down, is quite impressively small.”

Parkinson has devoted his long career to creating luminarium with his company Architects of Air. His inflatable labyrinth-like immersive environments are inspired by everything from churches and mosques to plants. They can be host to people to mediate in alone for hours, or collective gathering spaces for one-off performance events. 

“It is a space that is kind of accessible to all people, all cultures, all ages, all abilities,” Parkinson says.

“It’s a space where there is an equality. In Brazil, in São Paulo, we were set up in the financial district and there you would have the businessmen in their suits, but there were also the street kids. You could have that really diametrically distanced kind of sector of population, both inside and both experiencing what the structure has to offer.”

Millions of people in over 40 countries have previously entered Parkinson’s creations since he began Architects of Air in 1992. Touring the world, the luminariums continue to be handmade by Parkinson’s team from thin recyclable sheets of plastic in a former lace factory in Nottingham, England. Parkinson aims to make a new one every year over winter before they tour the world. 

Bookings can be made to enter Arborialis Luminarium until Sunday, 28 January here

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