What can we learn form the Bubble Man and his Atmospheric Ecologies

With this essay I will present the fragile thought-image of the soap bubble to venture an augmented understanding of what an atmospheric ecology might be, what it might include, and how it might contribute to a thinking of interiors. In contemporary digital design the soap bubble or soap film is most often investigated for what it can tell us about material behaviour, and how an understanding of material behaviour as it occurs in ‘Nature’ can be innovatively applied to design problems. Soap film can be studied in terms of what it tells us about surface tension and minimal distribution of material, which then allows the designer to better understand tensile structures. It also contributes to an understanding of cell walls (from the scale of the microscopic to the macroscopic), and how an interior condition responds to the pressure of an exterior condition. Appropriated from nature through a process of biomimicry, the behaviour of soap film and soap bubbles has been broadly used to test speculative design schemes and also to generate new digital techniques and technologies. I propose to liberate the thought-figure of the soap bubble from this set of technical studies and applications in order to extend an understanding of how it can be used to frame atmospheric ecologies, especially after the manner in which soap bubbles cluster and froth. Ecology here must be understood in an expanded sense that encompasses not just naturally occurring systems, championed by special interest groups that fight for a specific environmental niche, but also subjective and social ecologies, and how these different systems remain profoundly intertwined. I will draw on the work of Peter Sloterdijk, Jakob von Uexküll, and also Gregory Bateson, to offer other visions of what an atmospheric ecology might be, and how it can offer us more open definitions of the interiors in which we need to find a way to survive.

“What can we learn form the Bubble Man and his Atmospheric Ecologies” in IDEA: Interior Ecologies (2011), pp. 102-113. Peer Reviewed Journal