art

An Inflatable Planetarium Where You Can Climb Into the Night Sky 

By Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan on at

If you happened to drive on London's perpetually congested A13 in late November, you may have noticed it: below the flyover, an eerily glowing orb surrounded by crowds of people who seemed to be crawling in and out of the strange erection.

London's annual "light night," called Light Night Canning Town, brings together artists and makers to build light-focused installation art, much of it beneath the busy A13. The event's second year took place this winter, and included this wonderfully cool project by the London design studio Loop.pH.

It's called Osmo, and it's a pneumatically inflated cocoon made from silver mylar – the same stuff used as insulation on everything from emergency blankets to spacecraft.

An Inflatable Planetarium Where You Can Climb Into the Night Sky 

An Inflatable Planetarium Where You Can Climb Into the Night Sky 

Inflated below the A13, visitors could crawl into Osmo thanks to a zip-up entrance, then sit beneath the stars, which were projected onto the nine-metre-high surface using lasers. Is it accurate? Loop.pH's Mathias Gmachl told me that the projections are indeed based on the actual night sky. The design team used this map from In the Sky, which charts 88 constellations "plotted on a rectangular grid right ascension – celestial longitude – and declination – celestial latitude," according to the site.

An Inflatable Planetarium Where You Can Climb Into the Night Sky 

An Inflatable Planetarium Where You Can Climb Into the Night Sky 

That means they had to project the 2D rectangular map onto a roughly spherical object, which they did using the 3D-modelling program Rhino and the parametric design program Grasshopper. This was what the final model ended up looking like:

An Inflatable Planetarium Where You Can Climb Into the Night Sky 

So, obviously, it's not a perfectly realistic depiction of how we see the night sky; it's as though you're the Earth itself, able to look up, down, or any other direction unencumbered by the horizon or seasons or any other factors. The flat ground would have created plenty of deformation, too.

An Inflatable Planetarium Where You Can Climb Into the Night Sky 

So an exact science, it isn't; for an installation designed to delight people, that's just fine. Loop.ph named the project Osmo, but they gave it a subtitle too: A beginners guide to constructing the cosmos. That's an even more accurate way to describe it: a crumpled-up blueprint of our galaxy, unfolding and deforming all around us.

All images courtesy of Loop.pH.