Just add air, and move in

Times Staff Writer

IMAGINE a home of the future that's portable, flexible -- and inflatable. Moving this structure to a new location would simply mean letting the air out and packing the flattened house into a car or truck. Fill an 18-inch cube with air and it becomes a 60-foot-long covered pavilion that can be reshaped and customized to fit a specific purpose.

Two inflatable prototypes, designed by architect Alexis Rochas and his students at the Southern California Institute of Architecture in Los Angeles, will be on exhibit at the Southern California Home & Garden Show, which opens Saturday at the Anaheim Convention Center.

"I'm curious to see the reaction to these projects, which use air as a building material," says Rochas, who has tested the structures over the last year at local art shows and events as part of Southern California Institute of Architecture's Community Design Program. "These are not so much a design object but a way of investigating different ways of living. There are a lot of inflatables around, but those objects resolve a specific problem. We wanted to design an open structure with multiple uses."

The structures can be used as temporary emergency housing or as "a museum or art pavilion that pops up for a day, as we did in Watts," says Rochas, whose Los Angeles firm I/O specializes in open-space architecture such as rooftop gardens through design, engineering and fabrication. Good design, he adds, should be able to reconfigure as needs change.

The Aeromads prototype looks like a giant silver womb. The living pod is not confined to one position. It can be flipped around to fit the space it's resting on, which provides for different placement of slit openings into this cool, cushy space, outdoors or indoors. Inflated seating areas are built in.

The 20-by-15-foot exterior is 10 feet high and sheathed in nylon rib-coated with aluminized Mylar to reflect light and provide thermal insulation. Urethane rubber coating and a laminate the students concocted make it airtight. The inside seams are covered in a Dacron used for boat sails. "The problem with most inflatables is they are heavy, which defeats their purpose of being mobile," says Rochas. By employing lighter, durable materials, the team was able to cut the weight from 200 pounds on the first prototype to 75 pounds.

For energy needs, the Aeromads has embedded photovoltaic, flexible batteries and solar water heating. The dwelling on display at the home show will be a scaled-down version. The prototype doesn't have a kitchen, bathroom or lighting system. But Rochas says visitors will be able to climb through the slits and experience inflatable living, if only briefly, for themselves.

The other structure, the FAB Inflatable Pavilion, was designed by Rochas last year as an art exhibition space and shady place for vendors and buyers to hang out at the FAB Market street fair near the SCI-Arc campus.

In three minutes, pumped-in air transforms that 18-inch cube into a pavilion. A limited budget had Rochas and his crew considering applying vinyl from old billboards, but they couldn't get permission to recycle the used materials because of copyright issues related to the advertised products. Instead, they contacted vinyl manufacturers and procured their discards, back stock and unused pieces.

The message Rochas is promoting is not that life should be mobile or that we should unload our abundance of stuff. He offers a grander philosophy. "We should understand that little moments in life are as important as larger ones. These structures are not meant to be some place forever but for a short-time experience. But that one day still matters."

Other innovative landscaping designs and architectural structures at the home show's first exhibit of futuristic homes and gardens will be Los Angeles artist and architect Gregg Fleishman's conceptual temporary housing structure, DH1 Proposal for Emergency Shelter, which has no screws or fasteners and employs wood hinges. And his jungle gym, the M5-5 Play System, has a foundation of soft grubble, a recyclable rubber product.

Janet Eastman can be reached at janet.eastman@latimes.com

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Windows to the future

The Southern California Home & Garden Show is staging its first exhibit of futuristic architectural concepts for the home and garden.

Where: Anaheim Convention Center, 800 W. Katella Ave.,

Anaheim.

When: Saturday through Aug. 27.

Hours: 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; noon to 9 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.

Admission: $10 for adults,

$8 for seniors (60 and older) and $4 for children age 6-12. Children younger than 5 are free.

Information: Go to www.southerncaliforniahomeshow.com.

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