The Shenzen-based company Broadwell technologies builds inflatable, pressurized domes to cover athletic fields in winter, but lately it has found new clientele for its enormous inflatable architecture: wealthy Chinese people and organizations who like to breathe. Broadwell has partnered with the California-based air filtration company UltraViolet Devices, Inc. (UVDI) to add air filtration systems to its domes so that Chinese residents can enjoy the outdoors in the safety of the indoors. The most widely publicized use of Broadwell’s new domes is their installation over the sports complex at the International School of Beijing (ISB), where the dome was fitted with a custom dual-stage particulate and activated carbon filter system designed by UVDI. The joint venture by the Broadwell and UVDI creates a space with an AQI rating below 50 – within the range of what is technically referred to as “good”.
Domes and inflatable buildings captured the imagination of architects in the 1960s and 1970s, but they have traditionally been affiliated with revolutionary artists and architects like Ant Farm, who traveled the country inflating temporary structures to hold lectures or screen movies, and Buckminster Fuller, who suggested that a two-mile diameter dome could be built over midtown Manhattan, saving residents more than 90 percent on their energy costs while also protecting them from inclement weather and nuclear attacks. Broadwell’s inflatables are decidedly less counter-cultural but are in their own way revolutionary, as they represent a new solution to temporary atmospheric control at a massive scale. These so-called “pollution domes” can cost more than a million dollars and measure over 54,000 square feet – not quite the size of a city, but unless the sources of the pollution are regulated, covering all of Beijing would only transform the Chinese city into the world’s biggest smokers’ lounge.
China is taking steps to improve its air quality but cleaning pollution takes times and governments tend to move slowly. While new policies take shape, Chinese designers and engineers will continue to affect change by doing what they do best: solving problems creatively.