Inflatable building a bouncy festival marvel

Published: Friday, June 25 2004 12:00 a.m. MDT

People exiting what looks like a circus tent called the Ixilum, the newest architectural installation at this year's Utah Arts Festival, describe it as half-art, half-bouncy castle, or a building sent from outer-space.

Although the inflatable building looks like a giant caricature from the outside, visitors are greeted by a giant maze of saturated color, domes, towers and tunnels once they take off their shoes and step through the air-lock.

The 16,000-square-foot structure, or luminarium, was designed and built by Alan Parkinson and his Architects of Air team in Nottingham, England.

Ixilum is one of four luminaria in existence, with a fifth being built in England. The structures are made from PVC vinyl and cut and glued by hand in a former lace factory. Each is made into portable sections that zip together on site in about 20 minutes.

Parkinson, whose inspiration comes from cathedral and mosque designs, has created luminaria since 1992.

"(Parkinson) actually got in trouble from his wife and some people for making Alcazaar, his last design, too dark so he made this one," said Shanti Freed, one of the exhibition managers with Architects of Air. "He's experimenting with different light techniques. It's a mixture of direct and reflected light."

The Ixilum is 26 feet tall and has 1,443 feet of linking tunnels and towers, making it the largest luminaria yet according to Freed.

"As the company grows, so have the designs, although now we're trying to shrink the designs," said James Stephenson, who is also an exhibition manager. "It makes things more versatile in terms of where you can place things, even this exhibit is missing a section. Bigger isn't always better."

Because of the wear and tear of the vinyl and weather conditions, most luminaria also only last about five years, Stephenson said.

"Utah weather has been difficult to handle. The heat makes the building really high maintenance because things come apart, and we have to put them back together before anything deflates," he said.

Even with Thursday's temperatures rising above 90 degrees, both Stephenson and Freed agree that the maintenance problems are overshadowed by the reactions of people leaving the site.

"The artwork appeals to all ages whether it's a child or the elderly," Freed said. "I personally like to see the elderly who are reluctant to go in at first because they're scared, but then fall in love with what they see rather than the children who just want to go in for the fun. This is meant to be a sculptural artwork, not just an attraction."

Ixilum is open from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. throughout the festival and is an additional $3 beyond the festival admission ($7 for adults; $3.50 for senior citizens; free for children 12 and under; and $3.50 from noon to 3 p.m. today). The 2004 UAF at the downtown library square is open from noon to 11 p.m. through Sunday. For information, visit www.uaf.org.


E-mail: sbaghbani@desnews.com

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