Pneus Champ Libre

Pneu, the air- or fluid-filled cell structures in the living tissue of plants, embody a plant’s symbiotic relationship to its milieu. Plant cells change their pressure to give stiffness or flexibility to a branch as the wind changes, and simultaneously conduct fluid nutrients from the plant’s roots to its leaves.

Our installation, Pneus, exists in a world of second nature, a world made by human hands but governed also by electricity and gravity. Its roots extend into the subterranean world of infrastructure, and its canopy drinks sunlight.

By suspending Pneus off the ground, overhead, we up-end the earth to expose its roots, and let those who walk underneath the installation experience the rhythms Pneus extracts from the street and the building as dappled light and shadow, much like dappled shade on the forest floor.


Pneus also works on the membrane between a building and its street. In this age of « intelligent » technology, opening a window is no longer an innocent act, so we open a building symbolically and informatically. Like an air-plant, Pneus adheres lightly to its host, drawing rhythms from the heart of the building and releasing them into the exterior as a kind of music.

Pneuma’s capillaries contain eyes that see not identities like « intruder » or « employee » but only elementary things: light and dark, the chiaroscuro of sun and cloud, or a pedestrian’s body walking past the window. Other capillaries lightly touching the building or hanging freely in mid-air function as whiskers sensitive to the friction of traffic – human, vehicular, infrastructural – and passes them back and forth through the membrane of the building. Transmuting and radiating rhythms allows the building to breathe together with its exterior again.

More analytically, Pneus also serves as stethoscope or instrument. As it becomes attuned to its site, Pneus becomes more legible and playable to passersby – it will respond to the approach or departure of a human by modulating itself on the momentum of the person’s passage or gesture.


Installation description Pneus is a responsive pneumatic installation formed from bundles of semi transparent plastic inflated tubular cells interconnected through various low-pressure systems and simple electronic sensors. The bundles of cells in Pneus are able to branch, bend, take shape and weave into various configurations. Some cells will contain smaller cells with embedded sensors, electronics and pneumatic valves. The approximate size of Pneus will be about 4m x 6m x 4m high, but can be stretched or multiplied according to the site.

Interaction occurs in different ways: photocells in tubes act as simple proximity sensors of people passing by the structure. Optical flow will be processed to modulate a motion referencing sparks, waves, or steam depending on the hour of day and the evolving state of the system, a motion composed in turn from the transmutation of natural patterns of sunlight or infrastructure data, for example, the vibrational data from the wire whiskers touching the walls or ground. Light and shade condenses over people as they walk, depending again on the state of the system – like weather.

Constructed from semi-transparent plastic, the quality of light possible through the installation will make a continually varying shadow play, integral lights within the cells are being considered as a type of photosynthesis feedback system.


Pneus will be suspended in two parts : the exterior part will be above head-height and directly above the sidewalk on rue St Antoine so that the participant can walk under the installation. The interior part of Pneus will consist of the following materials. Inflatable cells: heat welded PVC, PVC tubing, PVC connections. Sensors: IR and visible light photocells, printed circuit boards, low voltage Piezo electric induction micro- phones. External power sources, external speakers and a small computer (Mac Mini) will be incorporated into the interior part of the proposed structure. Exterior structure will consist of a scaffolding system, non-invasive clamping for the existing building. Sub structure will consist of a fine network of high stress monofilament connected to the PVC structural manifolds.


Peter Hasdell is an architect, artist and academic.

Patrick H Harrop is an architect and associate professor of Architecture at the University of Manitoba; doctoral researcher, Topological Media Lab.

Sha Xin Wei, Ph.D., is Canada Research Chair in media arts and sciences, and Associate Professor of Fine Arts and Computer Science at Concordia University,Topological Media Lab.