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Saraceno: Lighter Than Air?

While most predictions of Earth conditions are characterized as laments weighted with despair and anxiety, Tomas Saraceno is revelling in the utopian possibility he discovered when studying Alexander Graham Bell's explorations with aviation at the beginning of the last century. While Bell is best known for inventing the telephone, he also experimented with ways to make manned flight a reality.

Saraceno returned to Bell's prototype and added a futuristic conception of floating buildings. Bell's century-old flying machine was a tetrahedron-shaped to maximize surface area and minimize weight through the use of pyramid-shaped sails.  Saraceno’s structure retains Bell’s frame construction but updates. Working with the Aerospace Engineering Faculty at Delft University in the Netherlands, he decided to use carbon fiber tubing for the framework and flexible, paper-thin solar panels as the sails. He named it "Solar Bell". The structure is lighter than air!!saraceno-solar-bell

The prototype is only 5 meters tall, but Saraceno imagines future versions will be 60 meters lifted entirely by the power of the wind . Saraceno imagines then as shimmering, soaring buildings in which air replaced land as the basis for architecture.  The current version was commissioned to accompany the Maasvlakte 2 expansion of Rotterdam’s port. Saraceno explains, “The idea is that humans will be able to steer and manipulate the position of the structure based on the distribution of weight. “I want to see people going up in it, climbing in it, using it.”

This is not Saraceno’s first attempt to create a floating structure that people can ride and inhabit. “Between earth and space, between art, architecture, ecology, meteorology and astrophysics, traditional borders that stand in the way of progress dissolve,” says Saraceno. “Playing is one of the learning processes in life. It is the cultivation of what we do not think is possible.”