Since the age of 11, founder, designer and artistic director Alan Parkinson had been fascinated by Photography. By his early 30’s, this fascination with light had taken him from a Degree in Photography to being an ‘Architect Of Air.’
“I design Luminaria because I want to share my sense of wonder at the phenomenon of light.”
— Alan Parkinson.
In the 1980’s, Parkinson started to experiment with pneumatic structures (structures filled with air, think similar to bouncy castles) and figuring out the characteristics of using air filled plastic structures to manipulate light. Then in 1992 Parkinson set up ‘Architects Of Air’. A fabulous name that encapsulates perfectly what the company is about.
Under Parkinson’s leadership at their Nottingham workshop, a small group of talented people hand fabricate (out of a specially developed PVC material) large, walk-through, air-filled sculptures. These sculptures are designed to let sunlight shine through translucent panels. These panels play with light in many ways, creating a unique experience. Imagine standing in front of a stained-glass window that is in direct sunlight and being bathed in an assortment of colours and you get close to what you experience.
The Architect of Air Designs take direct inspiration from natural geometric shapes, gothic Cathedrals and the intricate patterns found within Islamic architecture. The result from the outside is an unassuming silver coloured honeycomb structure, often with minaret style centre pieces and the odd coloured panel sitting vertically around the edge. These structures are called a Luminarium.
The Architects of Air tour their Luminaria around the world, having so far created over 500 exhibitions in over 40 countries and counting.
Well, first off, they don’t have just one Luminarium. They have Seven! Each Luminarium are of a similar scale – and they are huge! Around 1000m² /10,000ft². They are also modular, so are adjusted to fit the location they find themselves in. Each of the 7 Luminaria have a name and carry a theme of sorts.
In August 2023 we visited Compton Verney who hosted the Luminarium ‘TIMISIEN’
Timisien takes its name from the Romanian city of Timișoara.
Typically, you must book your Luminarium visit in advance. Architects of Air do not have a booking system, instead favouring the visiting venue to manage the ticket sales. So we booked our visit online through Compton Verny’s website.
Having arrived at the location we queued up for our time slot. The entry is timed as to avoid overcrowding. The suggestion is around 20 minutes inside is enough time, although in truth no one really policed how long we stayed in the Luminarium.
As we entered Timisien, we were asked to remove our shoes and stand on the red-carpet effect PVC floor. A door was unzipped like a tent, and we were welcomed into the structure. Immediately bathed in bright red light, we started walking through the myriad of internal domes. Timisien is made up of 18 connected domes that form the maze. As we wandered through the warren of corridors we noticed that various light panels engineered into the sides of the structure created little pockets of coloured light that we could sit in. Taking time out to enjoy the environment we sat in front of a red panel. We discovered that being inside a Luminarium is not all about the light either. Architects of Air pipe in tranquil, calming sensory music, allowing you to forget the outside world for a few minutes and soak up the atmosphere. After taking several brightly coloured selfies, we carried on exploring
Some of the connected domes have finials that house a coloured skylight.
These finials helped change the colour of light in various sections of the maze. The result was a psychedelic melting of bright reds, yellows, oranges, blues, purples, and greens. Amazing to think that all this was created using natural light! The colour tones inside constantly shifted as the clouds outside changed the suns intensity, adding to the magic of the experience. This light fantastic makes for some creative photography and the results are very dramatic. This must be what designer Alan Parkinson was hoping the public would get to witness wIth his designs.
As we spent more time inside Timisien, we discovered two further domes. One huge main dome, with people sitting in the various pockets built in around the edge, and a few others simply standing in the middle looking up or lying on the ground, faces pointed to the roof.
When we looked up, we discovered a glowing pattern that looked middle eastern in style, surrounded by further small circles of light. It that made us think we had walked into some sort of alien spaceship. It was very impressive how the opaque sections formed the intricate pattern and let the light through. In fact, reading about Timisien, this is a heptagonal motif from traditional Islamic architecture.
Having had our fill of this dome we ventured back into the maze, enjoying all the colours and taking some more photos. We then came across the second dome, this one slightly smaller. Learning from the last dome, we looked up to find a bright/green blue pattern, surrounded by little dots of light resembling stars, it looked amazing.
Once we had had enough of the Luminarium, we returned through the maze to the zip door and made our exit and collected our shoes with great big smiles on our faces. We spent around 45 minutes within Timisien, and it was an enjoyable experience. If one visits nearby to you, then we recommend a visit. If you are lucky enough to visit multiple Luminaria you should get a different experience each time, as the designs of the cones and spheres are different for each one they make. This is actually the second Luminarium we have visited. The first being 2006 when the Architects of Air visited our hometown. It was the excellent memory of that experience that prompted us to book for Timisien and we were not disappointed.
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Thanks for reading!
G & J
Words : Garry Llewellyn