Charlotte, North Carolina’s Leading on Opportunity Task Force Report (https://leadingonopportunity.org/) identified strategies to mitigate Charlotte’s lack of upward mobility. Key to the success of this strategy is housing that does not cost burden residents and allows a variety of people to stay in established neighborhoods. Balloonitè addresses Charlotte’s urgent need to affordable housing with a vivid and experimental architectural response.
The project seeks to re-animate the architectural approach of Le Corbusier’s Unitè d’Habitation through the use of innovative inflatable steel technology. Most inflated steel experiments are small objects and intimate installations, but they have revealed the technology’s capacity to produce thin shelled, strong, rapidly, and deployable structures. From the housing unit to the structural frame and shell, Balloonitè capitalizes on the potential of the technology at the multiple scales within the architecture.
Inflated steel works as a relatively simple procedure. First, two 18-gauge steel sheets are cut into a desired shape. Second, edges and seams are welded together, making sure to keep the blowhole open. Last, 90 (psi) air is pumped into the cavity. Extrapolated as a modular building system, the timesaving prefabrication, coupled with the material efficiency of the Balloonitè components, inflated steel affords tremendous construction cost savings. Given building can be made entirely from recycled steel, and that the formed construction is low maintenance and long life cycle, this is a truly sustainable approach.
Balloonitè is an experimental project that could help bring life, creativity, and innovation to a rapidly growing city. The joy of the architecture could help Charlotte move past the affordable housing stigma, “not in my backyard,” and move culture forward in the way we think of affordable housing. The technology helps to rethink the modernist social housing projects in a new, more eclectic, and humane way.