The UK’s Architects of Air has returned to Sydney Festival with another magnificent inflatable installation. This time, it’s Dodecalis Luminarium, a labyrinth of tunnels, domes and secretive spaces at Darling Harbour’s Tumbalong Park.
“A sense of wonder is a good thing to experience, and a luminarium can inspire one – in just about everyone,” founder, designer and artistic director of Architects of Air Alan Parkinson tells Broadsheet.
Dodecalis Luminarium does exactly that. When visitors walk inside they enter an alternative world filled with dazzling lights in a myriad of colours. But the surprising thing is that it’s all derived from sunshine – diffused through translucent, recyclable, custom-made PVC.
The sculpture consists of three domes, each based on the dodecahedron (a 12-sided solid) and evocative of Islamic architecture. A web of tunnels link them together.
“I’ve experimented with different approaches to the dodecahedron for 25 years,” says Parkinson. “The form attracts me because it has an asymmetric floor plan that helps to disorientate the visitor. It is essential that visitors lose themselves.”
Getting lost is easy. One minute you find yourself in a narrow tunnel, the next in a high-ceilinged room, the next in an alcove. As the spaces change, so too does the colour of the light – from electric blue to warm red to cool green – and the geometric patterns are above and around you.
“Without a doubt, my favourite part is the Main Dome,” says Parkinson. “I love the calmness of it; a calm that you’ll only find after you’ve passed through the more exciting elements of the luminarium.”
Adding to the experience is the original soundtrack that plays throughout: Mountains of Venice by UK-based composer David Bickley. “I particularly like the music for its capacity to create a mood of slow contemplation – and I hope it will have a similar effect on the Sydney visitors,” says Parkinson.
He founded Architects of Air in Nottingham in 1992, after spending years experimenting with pneumatic sculptures.
“I got into inflatables very much by accident,” he says. “I am self-taught in design and, for some reason, inflatables are a good fit with my aptitudes, for which I’m grateful.
“I’m not entirely sure what the appeal of these inflatable environments are for me – my intuitions about it have shifted with time and there are many dimensions to the experience.
“The fundamental thing that still touches me is the experience of light and colour. I’m still ambushed by the instances of beauty that somehow take me by surprise, even though I’m so familiar with the physical objects.”
Architects of Air has visited Sydney Festival twice before – with Exxopolis in 2014 and Mirazozo in 2011.
Dodecalis Luminarium is at Tumbalong Park at Darling Harbour until January 26. Entry is free Monday to Wednesday from 10am to 6pm, and Thursday to Sunday from 10am to 5pm. Ticketed sessions ($20) are also available, which allow you to skip the queues.