Image Courtesy ORPROJECT
Vast ETF cushions supported by internal air pressure would create urban havens in environmentally-challenged cities.

Delhi-based architects are promoting plans to build vast bubble-like enclosures to create urban havens in environmentally challenging cities such as the Indian capital and Beijing, China. Vast domes have been the basis of many unfulfilled dream schemes, though the U.K.’s Eden project provides a beacon of hope.

The proposed “Bubbles” would enclose urban parks with environmentally controlled air which would be shared with surrounding buildings. Unlike geodesic domes, Bubbles would be formed by a filigree of inflatable “air beams” connected by stressed cables. Infilled with translucent cushions of ethyl tetra fluro ethylene, the Bubbles would be kept up by internal air pressure.

“It is a conceptual project for which we are hoping to find a client,” explains Rajat Sodhi, a member of the small architectural firm Orproject, with offices in Delhi, London and Beijing. He concedes the scheme remains sketchy and declines to name his collaborating contractor for commercial reasons. Sodhi hopes to  “find a way to develop and detail the design”, but has yet to recruit a structural engineer. “As a small office,  it is not possible for us to spend money…yet,” he adds.

From work done so far on a notional structure with a 400 by 600 meter footprint, the Bubble would cost around $1,350 per square meter of surface area, with integrated solar panels, and around 30% less without, estimates Sodhi. Having unveiled the Bubble proposal this February, he has yet to approach officials in any city.

Orproject’s Bubbles follow in the steps of numerous attempts to shelter humans from their harsh environments. Earlier schemes include a 3.5 million square meter dome proposed in 1980 for the small Vermont community of Winooski. More ambitious was an idea which emerged in 2009 for a two million square meter dome in Houston, Texas.

Those dreams came nothing but the U.K.’s Eden project near St. Austell, Cornwall, appears to be thriving, having attracted 16 million visitors since opening in 2001, according to a spokeswoman.

Covering over 22,000 sq meters of botanical garden, the Eden enclosure comprises two clusters of geodesic domes up to 50 meters tall. Since the geodesic dome concept has a successful tract record why go for the Bubble instead? “Because it’s beautiful,” says Sodhi.