Sometimes, the true scope of a problem can be measured by the wackiness of the solutions that have been proposed to solve it. Take, for example, Beijing's unwieldy, record-breaking smog. Some suggest that Beijing install pollution-sucking electromagnetic fields underground, while others have designed giant showerheads to spritz the city clean. Now, in what seems like a last-ditch kind of thought, London-based architecture firm Orproject has developed a wild plan to create safe spaces for people to breathe: Giant, solar-powered bubbles.
"We suffer daily from smog," explains Christoph Klemmt, Orproject co-founder and resident of Beijing. "Our concept can happen on a very small scale, but we are hoping we can enclose a large area of the city, where we have a greenhouse with a botanical garden inside."
Orproject's veiny, transparent domes, or "bubbles," rely on a stretchy plastic material called ETFE. For the 2008 Beijing Olympics, organizers created a 17,000-person aquatic stadium cloaked in ETFE, which, letting in extra light and heat, decreased energy costs by an estimated 30%. The material was also used to house the U.K.'s famous Eden Project, a series of educational biomes.
Orproject hopes to recreate the biome idea, too, which is part of why their renderings look so lumpy. The cups of air, designed by a computer program to mimic butterfly wings and leaves, could create different micro-climates within the same space—a tropical forest on one end, for example, and Arizona at the other. The material can also be checkered with flexible solar cells that power the structure, including its air filters.
Klemmt doesn't think Bubbles' biggest challenge will be an engineering one. Instead, he sees roadblocks in convincing the Chinese government, and developers, to go for the idea.
Orproject imagines Bubbles as a public space project, the kind that developers are required to create alongside commercial developments. The Chinese government, however, limits how much of these public plots can have buildings on them—and while Bubbles would function as a park, it still qualifies as an enclosed space.
"This construction system which we've developed could work on various scales," Klemmt says. "The big park is our dream, which depends on a lot of other people, including the government. If we were to realize this for a schoolyard, it'd be much easier for it to happen."