Tomás Saraceno's Floating Cities
Words by Nikki Stefanoff
Photos supplied by Tomás Saraceno
Video supplied by TED
For further reading about floating cities, visit the TED website here.
As our cities get more and more overcrowded and our planet starts to stumble under the pressure of human expansion, perhaps it’s time we stopped looking around for the answers and looked up instead.
Argentinian artist Tomás Saraceno has an interdisciplinary approach to his gravity-defying structures, which makes a lot of sense when you hear that he’s a trained architect.
His work In Orbit (2013) is the perfect example of this passion for mixing art with form and structure and saw him suspending floating spheres 20 meters above the ground of the K21 Ständehaus, a public arts space in Düsseldorf, Germany. Here Saraceno combined his famous spider web structures with his vision for an ongoing project Cloud Cities (2002-present) and saw people walking, rolling and bouncing between floating spheres supported only by three levels of mesh.
Saraceno’s work is not only a melting pot of art, architecture and science but also a launch pad for challenging societal views about how we live and interact with the space around us. Pieces such as In Orbit, as well as Cloud Cities, ask of the observer - how can we navigate a place where every one of our movements has an effect on someone else. It is, in a sense, the butterfly effect in action and a visual representation of how we, as humans, are constantly leaving footprints that affect everything around us - including the planet.
Saraceno’s desire to protect and preserve the planet is apparent in all he does. In his 2015 open-sourced project, Aerocene, he began working with global communities to artistically and scientifically explore new ways of living more sustainably. This included expanding upon his vision for humanity to be able to leave the ground altogether and start a new life in the clouds.
Aerocene is a project exploring the current environmental crisis and consists of aerodynamic sculptures powered simply by the sun’s heat - not a fossil fuel in sight. These balloon like, spherical sculptures were presented by Saraceno and his team at COP21, the Paris Climate Conference, as an example of how we could use them, alongside the wind’s natural highways, to travel the world fuel-free. Not satisfied with simply presenting a ‘concept’ the team had partnered with MIT to develop, and present, a program that helps to predict the wind, maps out a safe travel path and delivers us, via the sky, to our destination.
‘We are living at the bottom of an ocean of air.’
Saraceno’s flight-fuelled imagination and the work it produces all flows from the same source - his boyhood dream to be able to float in the clouds. He simply sees the world from the clouds down rather than the ground up - ‘We are living at the bottom of an ocean of air,’ he says. ‘The earth is a complex and beautiful place so let’s experience the air in a different way.’
His work with the project Aerocene Explorer is there to allow us to do just that. Described as a personal tool for solar-powered atmospheric exploration, each Explorer kit fits in a portable backpack and comes with a floating sculpture, a photo-video camera and a pack of sensors that measure air temperature, humidity and pressure. Once you launch your Explorer the information you collect through its sensors goes on to act as a powerful springboard for future creative and scientific endeavours for Aerocene. By sending the Explorer up above the clouds, the cameras give you a birdseye view of life above the ground.
Saraceno’s work is imaginative and inspiring and shows us how the power of one boy’s desire to live differently could one day change the way we live. Perhaps it’s time we all did exactly what we’re told not to, and walk around with our head (and feet) firmly in the clouds.