Federation Square is a venue for arts, culture and public events on the edge of the Melbourne central business district. The “atrium” is one of the central public spaces in the precinct. It is a laneway-like space, five stories high, with glazed walls and a roof. The exposed metal structure and glazing patterns follow the pinwheel tiling pattern used elsewhere in the precinct’s building facades.
With an open front section facing Flinders St, the atrium is notoriously cold during winter.
The brief given by the city of Melbourne was to create a temporary structure that could be erected during the winter months to close off the open Flinders St atrium section of Fed Square to allow the space to be heated more efficiently. In addition to closing off much of the entrance, the structure’s design had to maintain the architectural style of the building and leave a space for the public to walk through the inflatable structure.
The 13m x 5m inflatable wall was created using 0.5mm PVC and designed to mimic the architectural style of the larger permanent structure. Powered by a large blower, which was placed inside a custom-designed noise reduction housing, the wall could be installed in a matter of hours a few days before winter.
A 2m opening was created in the inflatable structure to allow the public to access the atrium from Flinders St, with the remaining frontage being closed off by the inflatable.
Internal lighting was also added to the inflatable wall to illuminate the temporary structure at night and showcase the piece as a separate but integrated design.
The federation square wall went through many design iterations, with significant consideration given to the balance between creating a unique design vs blending the design with the surroundings. It was decided that the final design would mimic the surrounding building while still being immediately noticeable as an inflatable, temporary addition. The goal was to create something that was not only functional but also beautiful, like a sculpture.
During the design process, many materials were considered until the 0.5mm PVC was chosen. Other more robust materials were also considered, but few had the same desired transparency as the PVC. The PVC material offered the best blend of strength and transparency. The stretch of the material allowed the inflatable to mould itself to the building as it aged continually.
After its first installation of the inflatable wall at Federation Square, Giant Inflatables won the AFAI International Achievement Award for the design. After six years of use, the inflatable wall was upgraded to a newer version in 2013 which was in place for an additional three winters before being retired.
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