The New Real Estate Bubble

You've probably walked by the Hirshhorn museum without knowing it. On the Mall in Washington, surrounded by the picturesque Smithsonian Castle, with its bright red turrets, and the National Archives, with its dramatic classical facade, the Hirshhorn tends to fade into the background.

Despite its distinctive donut shape, the Hirshhorn's placement (behind a sculpture garden) and its overall demeanor (gray and windowless) make it easy to miss.

But the museum's new director -- who hails from L.A. and helped build that city's dramatic Disney Concert Hall -- has a plan to enliven the building's architecture.

At his request, the New York architects Diller Scofidio and Renfro have designed an inflatable "bubble" that could be inserted into the Hirshhorn's donut hole. Two refrigerator-size air pumps would inflate the sky-blue structure, which would bulge out the top of the building's courtyard. The space inside could be used for temporary exhibitions and performances. The New York Times hailed the project as "an uplifting work of civic architecture. Other architects have criticized it, for using a gimmick to gussy up a mid-century building that should be appreciated for its own modernist merits.

Inflatable rooms have been around for years, but they're usually touted for oddball purposes, like dodging pathogens or partying like it's 2009.

Millions of Americans are used to blowing up mattresses when guests come to visit -- recently we examined how Aerobeds are making convertible sofas obsolete. But how about blowing up an entire guest room? Something a little sleeker than the inflatable "castles" that people rent for children's birthday parties.

Indeed, with architects like Diller Scofidio and Renfro -- whose design for The High Line in New York has won rave reviews -- on the case, inflatable rooms may become stylish.

Someday, the phrase "housing bubble" could have a whole new meaning.
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