Francois Perrin installs cooling Air Houses in Chicago conservatory

By Dan Howarth

Los Angeles-based artist Francois Perrin has created a set of structures designed for keeping cool in our warming climate, and hoisted them above the palms at Chicago‘s Garfield Park Conservatory.

Perrin installed the project named Air Houses: Design for a New Climate for this year’s Chicago Architecture Biennial.

His series of shelters, which look like giant silver PG Tips teabags, are designed to keep their occupants cool in hot climatic conditions – such as those found in the historic conservatory’s Palm House.

Air Houses by Francois Perrin

“When [the biennial artistic directors] invited me, they knew that my work has been dealing with the concept of climate evolution and how architecture can look in the future, and find new solutions of having this dialogue between architecture and nature,” Perrin told journalists during a tour of the conservatory.

Air Houses by Francois Perrin

“I believe the first mission of architecture is to be political, and in this time more than ever… I really wanted to address this evolution of climate, and the way architecture and design tackle this issue, and share it with the public,” he added.

Air Houses by Francois Perrin

Each of the three structures is formed from a metal frame in the shape of a square-based pyramid, but with its base extruded slightly into four smaller triangular planes.

A material woven from thin strands of aluminium wraps all of the faces apart from one of the upper triangles, creating an entrance.

Air Houses by Francois Perrin

According to Perrin, the fabric reflects sunlight, and keeps out rainwater and wind, producing a cool, dry shelter. He also suggests that plants could grow up the tiny houses.

“It’s a material I’ve been using over the years that brings the temperature 20 degrees [Fahrenheit] down when you’re underneath, because of the nature of the fabric that bounces the light and makes it way cooler inside,” Perrin said.

Air Houses by Francois Perrin

The structures are light enough to be raised high off that ground and attached with relatively thin rope to the conservatory ceiling. Although they are designed to be inhabited, the pods are inaccessible at this installation for safety reasons.

Air Houses by Francois Perrin

The Garfield Park Conservatory comprises several giant glass enclosures, each accommodating different types of plants. The complex was built in 1907 by landscape architect Jens Jensen and architects Schmidt, Garden and Martin.

It is acting as a satellite venue for the Chicago Architecture Biennial 2017, and also hosted a musical performance for which SO-IL and Ana Prvački created air-filtering costumes.

Air Houses by Francois Perrin

The biennial runs from 16 September 2017 to 7 January 2018. Its programme – curated by artistic directors Johnston Marklee – is themed Make New History and, also includes an exhibition of alternative visions for the famous 1920s Tribune Tower competition and a series of detailed architectural models by SOM.

Perrin was born in Paris and trained as an architect. He runs LA studio Air Architecture, which has previously worked on a home where its owner can skateboard up the walls, and a guest house for a Buddhism expert.

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