Ark Nova

Artist: Anish Kapoor
Clients: Lucerne Festival
Object: tourable inflatable building
Project start: September 2011
Project delivery: September 2013

ARK NOVA, the world’s first inflatable mobile concert hall first opened its doors in Matsushima, Japan. It was designed by artist Anish Kapoor with the architect Arata Isozaki. 

The project is an initiative by Lucerne Festival in response to the tsunami that badly affected Northeastern Japan in March 2011. Opening with a concert on 27 September 2013, Ark Nova is designed to tour the region, to provide cultural events as an agent for new beginnings. The unique inflatable building is the setting for a program ranging from traditional Japanese dance theater to contemporary classical music.

Aerotrope worked closely with Anish Kapoor to develop the scheme for the complex form of the inflatable skin, in collaboration with tensile engineering consultancy Tensys. We also provided feasibility studies to suggest different anchoring/ ballast systems and solutions for access/emergency exits to Isozaki, Aoki & Associates.

Before Ark Nova, Aerotrope worked with Kapoor on the acclaimed gigantic inflatable sculpture “Leviathan”, exhibited inside Grand Palais Paris in 2011. Ark Nova builds on this expertise but is different in that it is a tour-able structure, which can withstand different weather conditions. Innovative engineering thinking was required to reach the level of sculptures Anish Kapoor is world renowned for. The result is a dramatic toroidal shape, a form that has completely re-imagined the use of inflatable tensile structures.

Technical Design Details of Ark Nova

The shell consists of a PVC-coated polyester membrane of ca. 2000 m². It is 0.63 mm thick and weighs 1700 kg. When inflated, the hall has a volume of over 9000 m³. The maximum expansion is 29 m wide, 36 m long and 18 m high. The inside offers a space of 680 m² for a large stage and around 500 seats in flexible arrangement. The auditorium seating is made of wood sourced from ancient cedar trees, which previously grew near the Zuiganji Temple of Matsushima but had been uprooted by the disaster.

The toroidal shape of the building turns in on itself, creating a diagonal tube across the interior. From the outside this gives a view through the building of the sky. The tensile fabric was developed to the artist’s specification, with a bespoke colour. The final result appears opaque purple from the outside and translucent red from the inside, providing concert goers with a surprising visual experience. The skin’s translucence allows for an organic change in light levels. The internal tube is visually arresting and helps to modulate acoustics. Creating this toroidal shape for Ark Nova has definitely pushed the limits of inflatables design.