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Hugh Pearman

This year's Antepavilion for the Architecture Foundation is part Zeppelin, part marrow, part rubber duck and all Archigram

It’s part Zeppelin, part boat, part marrow, part rubber duck, part bouncy castle, and all Archigram. This year’s 'Antepavilion' by the Architecture Foundation is a floating, moving, inflatable bright yellow theatre that is immensely appealing, if not very easy to get into and out of. 

Designed by Thomas Randall-Page and Benedetta Rogers, this is the second of the AF’s Antepavilions (the name is meant to give a sense of those on the threshold of their careers). It was built at the Hoxton wharf owned by sponsor Russell Gray of Shiva Ltd, a highly unusual property company concerned with traditional London fabrication and craft-based industries. The pair won this year’s competition out of 132 entries, all given the same boat to work from. Last year’s, a silver-shingled timber-framed rooftop structure by PUP Architects masquerading as H&V plant, is still there for comparison purposes.

The foundations for this one, called AirDraft, consist of a proper old widebeam motorised steel lighter. Randall-Page and Rogers, with engineer AKTII, have inserted two inflatable structures into it: one for the gently raked squishy auditorium inside the lighter’s hold, the other for the superstructure. The bright yellow fabric structures were made by Cameron Balloons. A flap of the same material seals the entrance aperture while a clear pvc strip at gunwhale height provides all-round vision.

  • Credit: Jim Stephenson
  • Credit: Jim Stephenson
  • Credit: Jim Stephenson
  • Credit: Jim Stephenson

The lighter’s proportions are generous enough for this to be a genuinely usable space, though the stage area – a small semi-circular area of floor at the entrance end of the boat – is never going to take a big cast of performers. Backstage is a tiny room under the bows that doubles as entrance foyer. You have to climb down through a hatch to get into and out of it.

AirDraft is shuttling to and fro along the Regent’s Canal in August, hosting daily performances ranging from spoken word through comedy, theatre and music. Deflated, it passes easily through bridges and tunnels. Inflated, it brings bouncy pneumatic pleasure to all.