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Stills from How to Blow up a Bubble that Won’t Burst, single channel DVD, 2015, Zanny Begg

In 1974 three Binishells were erected at Narrabeen North Public School. The concrete domes were designed by Dante Bini, an Italian architect, bought to Sydney by the NSW Department of Public Works. The Binishells popped up from the ground in a matter of hours and caused an immediate sensation. People were amazed by the speed of their construction, their futuristic shape and most of all by their radical design, which used air as its primary building material.

As part of her research for the film How to Blow up a Bubble that Won’t Burst Zanny Begg facilitated an interview between a group of primary students at Narrabeen North Public School, who study within one of Dante Bini’s Binishells, and the architect.

Annika: Why did you come to our school to build the first Binishells in Australia?

Dante Bini: After visiting me and seeing a number of Binishells in Italy, the Government Architect Ian Thomson decided, together with the Minister of Public Works Mr. Leon Punch and the Minister of Education Sir Eric Willis, to build a library at your school. I was very lucky and gladly accepted to design the first Australian Binishell as your library. In a symbolic piece of design, I conceived a unique spherical structural support for a large asymmetrical opening of two intersecting domes. The two Binishells represented sea-shells offering to young students the pearl of knowledge of the history of the world. The very first structure was raised by air pressure on May 30th, 1974 by the staff of BC&M (Building, Construction and Maintenance of the Department) under my supervision and it was an instant success.

Amber: Why build with air?

Dante Bini: I believe that compressed air is the best, simpler, more economic and ecological energy man can use to lift and shape all construction materials to obtain a basic, architectural expression. If well controlled, compressed air can produce very natural-looking forms, easy to blend in their natural surrounding. Do you know that a low compressed air can lift tons and tons of reinforced wet concrete in minutes?

Annabel: An an architect who do you design and build for the people who commission you to create this building or for people like us who after all these years are still using it?

Dante Bini: As a student of architecture, I have always had a fascination for domes and, in particular, for their construction systems. Domes have stimulated my imagination and they were the constant focus of my architectural attention. One of the oldest building existing today is a dome: The Pantheon in Rome now more than 2000 years old. In the 1960’s it was popular opinion that doubled curvature roofs and thin shell structures represented a new building expression and I was attracted by their inherent strength, beauty, simplicity and purity in shapes capable to last many years. To build a symbolic long lasting building for future young generations was my dream!

Yasmin: Today our cities are getting even bigger and more polluted. We keep building things the same way even though we know its unsustainable. How do you get past people saying your ideas are too unusual and wouldn’t work?

Dante Bini: It is very hard indeed to convince people that we must be the “craftsmen” of our time for the future generations. It is time to stop living only to swagger the success of the past without pay attention to a very delicate and pressing times approaching at the speed of light. This is the reason because we should think “out of the box” not only in developing new construction systems, but also “devising” new approaches in developing future town-plannings. We must consider super-modern urban faciities disconnected from existing settlements. We need to envision new way to produce and maintain infrastructures with the use of construction automation and robotics.

Tamia: Why build with concrete?

Dante Bini: Concrete is a natural ecologic material, It is a mix of water and cement which is a powdery substance made with calcined lime and clay. When mixed with water, cement form a mortar which, mixed with sand and gravel (aggregates), forms concrete which hardens over time. Concrete can be reinforced with steel or other fibrous materials. The ancient Romans called it Pozzolana, naturally produced by vulcano’s eruptions. Concrete is durable, is inflammable, resistant to impact, temporary moldable and very safe even under extreme hight and/low temperatures.Using concrete we will save wood and forest!

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Toby: How do you build cities for the future?

Dante Bini: I was involved in the design 3 cities for the future: One is called Tower City, (for 600,000 people presented at the International Conference for Innovative Structures (Boston 1991) and published in Madrid (1992). This was an infrastructure build over a shallow costal seas by mobile factories and contained new lands to be landscaped). The second is called Try 2004 (for 1,000,000 people which was envisioned by the Japanese Shimizu Corporation in the bay of Tokyo and was the subject of a movie produced by Discovery Channel called “Extreme Engineering – A city in a Pyramid”). The third was K21(a new City model for future Urban Facilities) published in 1998 by the City of Kyoto. The common denominator of those project is the need to accept a modern regional and urban planning approach which could start by designating areas destined for future urbanization. It is imperative to minimize the indiscriminate physical, chemical and acoustic pollution of our cities and it is essential to contain and stop the dangerous tendency of cities to spread like oil drops, with the inevitable destruction of both the historical centre and the immediate surrounding ares.

Scarlet: Do you think architects think enough of people our age and the sorts of buildings we need to ensure the survival of our planet?

Dante Bini: Unfortunately, NO! Most of them are only thinking to build their own image and glorifying their ego!

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Project commissioned by Joni Taylor for the New Landscapes Institute.