Les Utopies Gonflables | Jean-Paul Jungmann et le groupe Utopia

Jean-Paul Jungmann was born in 1935 in Strasbourg [France] and currently lives and works in Paris. He’s one of the avant-garde architects that experimented with inflatable architecture, structures and furniture and also developed different projects in between the 1960s and 1970s. He lead the creation of the group UTOPIA, with Jean Auberg and Antoine Stinco in collaboration with sociologist Hubert Tonka, Jean Braudillard and others, focused on the formulation of radical critique to architecture, urbanism and every day life in French society on those years. They published the eponymous journal Utopia from 1967 to 1969. We can read at the book The inflatable moment: pneumatics and protest in ’68:

The Utopie architects drew on technical and aesthetics sources as diverse as Buckminster Fuller, research by the American military, the London group Archigram, and American comic books, and were inspired by the political and philosophical writings of Henri Lefevre. In their work they presented a vision for a built world in which buoyancy, ephemerality and mobility would replace the inertia and represion that they believed characterized the architectural urbanism of the postwar.

Some of the projects designed by Jungmann included ephemeral structures for exhibitions and galleries and diverse theoretical projects as his researches on inflatable houses.


Recit autour d’une ruine future sur la colline de Chaillot ou le bel Aujourd’hui [1976-78]


DYODON flottant. Une habitation pneumatique experimentale [1967]

Traces of the fascination for inflatables structures can be found more than a century ago. As Chi and Pauletti pointed on their research An Outline of the Evolution of Pneumatic Structures, the first experiments with pneumatic structures were undertaken during the development of hot air balloons. Brazilian priest Bartolomeu de Gusmão, in Lisbon, conducted a pioneering experiment as soon as 1709. However, an effective start for the development of balloons just occurred at the end of the 18th century, when the Montgolfier brothers built an 11m diameter hotair balloon, made by linen and paper.

After all those experiments on balloons, some of the avant-garde groups of the decade of 1960 were deeply interested on inflatable structures. the American group Ant Farm published in 1971 their book inflatocookbook, as an attempt to gather information and skills on how to do an inflatable structure. And some other collectives as Archigram or Haus Rucker Co were also interested in this subject.


Habiter Pneumatique [1967]

Reading more at the book The inflatable moment: pneumatics and protest in ’68, we found that Marc Deassauce also wrote:

Utopie professed and challenged the two approaches to architecture that seemed available to architecture students: to avoid architecture –perceived as a formalist and bourgeois occupation– or to be against architecture –the image and agent of social inertia.

With all these countercultural ideas in mind, Jungmann focused almost completely on his research for inflatable and pneumatic projects, as a way to re-discover the mening of “architecture“. His sketches show an intense and deep interest in projects such as Richard Buckminster Fuller’s proposal of a pneumatic dome to cover New York or The Artic City by Frei Otto and Ewald Bubner, but at the same time, with an approach to drive all those background given by several utopic and large scale projects to a livable scale.


Habitation pneumatique experimentale [1967], 1ere version


Habitation pneumatique experimentale [1967], 1ere version

The first issue of Utopie, “the review that considers urbanism as a social science”, opened with a nihilist “presentation” made up of tree blank pages. In the same issue, Antoine Stinco provided a collage mixing aesthetics references and bleak urban sights and Jungmann critiziced the graphic reduction of urban design. It was there where Braudillard wrote, “the privilege of the avant-garde connotes ideologically the cult of the ephemeral.” And all Jungmann’s projects are exactly this: a cult of the ephemeral.

Following the principles of the Utopie Magazine, in 1968 occurred the exhibition Structures Gonfables at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville of Paris, which raised a large interest in architects and designers from Europe, Unites States and Japan. One of the main works in exhibition, the Dyodon, showed Jungmann aesthetic investigations on pneumatic forms, specially inflated ones, presenting a rich diversity of patterning and structuring of the membranes. Even though an economical design could not be achieved, the architect’s formal intentions were considered satisfactory, as Herzog pointed in 1977.


DYODON. Une habitation pneumatique experimentale [1967]


DYODON. Une habitation pneumatique experimentale [1967]

We are witnessing a revival of inflatable structures in projects like Weightless by Paisajes Emergentes, and those art works designed by Tomas Saraceno. But we’re curious trying to discover why are we trying to reinvent the inflatable utopies. In their book Lightness: the inevitable renaissance of minimum energy structures, Adriaan Beukers and Ed van Hinte pointed that working on this topic was difficult. They said:

It was a complicated job as “Lightness” deals with many different subjects that, somehow, are all interrelated by analogies, in shape, structure, process or the idea behind them. Likeness apparently trascends time, origin and professional specialism.

Maybe it’s because air is so poetic, ephemeral and untouchable. Or maybe it’s this lightness behind Jungmann‘s projects that made them so unique and timelees that we are writing about them more than fifty years after they were designed. The Unbearable Lightness of Being or just, the unbearable lightness of architecture.

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We want to remark a fantastic tumblr-blog: La Periferia Doméstica and it’s wonderful serie “Arquitectos que no me enseñaron en la escuela“, which means something like Architects that I wasn’t taught in school, where we have discovered the work of Jean-Paul Jungman. We also recommend [Highly recommend] to visit Jungmann‘s web-site, with lots of information about projects, publications and exhibitions.

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