Raumlabor, Spacebuster

What if we injected life into inert urban places? Spacebuster hits the road to redefine the architectural and social possibilities of public space

From within a hard shell billows a soft bubble, an urban room hatched out of the back of a delivery van. The inflatable space acts as instant architecture and spontaneous theater, bursting- or busting rather- our conceptions about architecture and the urban form.

Commissioned by Storefront for Art and Architecture, Raumlabor developed Spacebuster for explorations of public space in Manhattan. Inspired by the Kitchen Monument, its original inflatable architecture designed for their home city of Berlin, Raumlabor’s new design was to engage in a very different environment: the density of Manhattan and the complex social fabric of Brooklyn. In a city where space is one of the most valuable commodities, mobility was crucial.

The solution- attach a large, translucent, balloon-like sac to the rear entrance of an archetypal American step van (like those used by DHL, UPS, and the US Postal Service), place a ramp leading down from the back and a fan that constantly pumps air into the enclosure. Lay down some carpet, and within minutes the space is transformed into a mobile, self-powered, flexible and adaptable work of non-site-specific architecture large enough to hold 80 people.

Space busting is about inhaling inert space, decompressing the void, sprouting between the cracks, squeezing the vacuum, enveloping the moment. It mobilizes us to mobilize space and think differently about agility in placemaking, about transforming the city’s many inhospitable, abandoned, left-over spaces into a temporary node of vitality.

What makes Spacebuster unique is both its concept and the experience. The translucent womb-like space allows viewers from within to use the city like a backdrop to a scene, and passers by to peer onto the stage of a public theater piece. The membrane becomes a semi permeable border between the public and the private.

More importantly, it centers urbanity around the behavior of people rather than the arrangement of buildings. Vito Acconci stated in a recent interview with Hans Ulrich Obrist, “The thing that terrifies me about architecture is that by designing a space you are necessarily also designing the way in which people behave in that space”.

Spacebuster is as amorphous as it is obedient. It plays within the rules- it is a certified building by the Department of Buildings, a licensed vehicle by the Department of Motor Vehicles, and a certified street event by the Department of Transportation. But its humble, cheap construction, and the simplicity of the idea somehow free it from the authority and convention of Architecture as we know it. It is the perfect device for rediscovering and reappropriating humanity in city, collectively.

Spacebuster hit the road for the first time in 2008 holding 10 consecutive evenings of conversations, screenings, performances, dances, cookouts and dinners in parking lots, under highways, beneath the High Line and in abandoned factories. It was deployed again in 2011 and 2013 for the New Museum’s Festival of Ideas for the New City.

Ramulabor has since developed a series of other spacebusting models for cities around the world- The Orbit in Freiburg (2006/2007), Balla Balla in Madrid (2009), The Knot in Berlin, Warsaw, and Bucharest (2010), Rosy/The Ballerina in London (2010), and BANG BANG in Seoul (2010).