Instant-City: the do-it-yourself city experiment in Ibiza (in the 70s)

Ibiza, in the past, was not as we see it today.

It was a predominantly rural, wild, partly underdeveloped and poorly urbanized area. A remote and serene place, free from the climate of repression and censorship of Franco’s Spain, which suffocated any expression of cultural diversity. Since the 1930s the island had become a Mediterranean refuge where one could express one’s freedom. The perfect meeting place for artists, intellectuals and hippies.

Is in this place and atmosphere that, in 1971, on the northern coast of Ibiza, in Cala de Sant Miquel, the VII Congress of ICSID (the International Council of Industrial Design Societies) on design, alternative architecture and experimental art forms was hosted. Usally, most of the meetings would have been held at the Hotel Cartago, the only structure in the area. The hotel would have hosted the conference delegates, however it would not have been able to receive the many young people arriving for the event from all over the world.

So two architecture students from the Polytechnic University of Madrid, Carlos Ferrater and Fernando Bendito, had an idea: to design a system of inflatable and eco-sustainable structures, which respected the nature and atmosphere of the place, to welcome the public of the event. The stated objective was “to allow a collective experience through which to create a temporary city. An inflatable city that highlights the contradictions of current industrial design.

To realize the project, the students asked for help from their professor José Miguel de Prada Poole, a world-famous architect and expert in inflatable structures, that started to help them to design the module of the instant city. They projected also an instruction manual for participants, with guidelines for building an inflatable tent quickly, using plastic sheeting and a stapler. In a few days, approximately fifteen thousand square meters of polyvinyl (PVC), traditionally used in the military and industrial fields, were put together. A million staples and a complex ventilation system were used to keep the enormous structure inflated. Everything had been designed to make setting up and dismantling the structure simple, limiting the impact on the environment as much as possible. Respect for the nature of the island, the idea of leaving no permanent traces, were the organizers’ priorities.

In those days, a lots of students from all over the world came and join the city. This project was a pioneering onte, that opened the way for an alternative approach to collective spaces, challenging the principles of traditional architecture. The inflatable pop-up structure created a fluid, stimulating and creative environment, in which boys and girls discussed, debated and created art. The instant city encouraged freedom of expression and favored spontaneous and experimental artistic actions.

The inflatable structure of Ibiza was in line with other “rebel” architecture proposals of those years. After the Ibiza experiment, the professor created many other perishable structures, and he became known for his “soap bubble” architecture. Instant City itself became a format, with repeats in several cities, including one in Stromboli.

In an article of Domus magazine in 2012, they reported the testimony of a guest of the inflatable city in 1971: “From my corner I saw all kinds of people: there was a young man who was carrying a rabbit with him, another who was playing the the flute with a towel around his waist and with a fur coat. There was a special atmosphere. In the instant city people were really in contact, they touched each other. They seemed like friends.” We can believe him…this is soooo Ibiza!!! 😉