The Long Center’s Miracoco luminarium lights up Austin


Jonathan Garza

Joshua Cooper’s son Landin Cooper points to the ceiling of the Miracoco luminarium Saturday afternoon. This is the third year in a row the Long Center for Performing Arts and the Architects of Air have come together to build a luminarium in Austin.

Vanessa Sliva

For the third year in a row, the Long Center for Performing Arts and the Architects of Air are joining forces to bring together the Miracoco, the most elaborate, advanced luminarium so far. 

The Miracoco luminarium is engineered to be one of the largest-domed luminaria ever built. Within the inflatable structure is a design influenced by the Lotus Temple of India that covers the ceiling and incorporates spiral lattices that allow sunlight to penetrate the luminarium material.

Alan Parkinson, the founder of Architects of Air, first started making the inflatable dome structures in 1992 with no expectations that luminaria would gain the amount of attention they have. 

“When I first started doing them, it was very much in a small community context and I was making them for school projects in Nottingham in England and to go to institutions for people with disabilities,” Parkinson said. “Very occasionally we did public events, but I don’t think I ever thought it’d be something which would grow and have the sustainability it has.”

Parkinson’s luminaria are made from plastic that is made specifically for the Architects of Air, which is currently the only group creating luminaria. Each structure takes up a space of about 1,000 square meters and is assembled on site. They are made from only four different colors that overlap and combine to create a full color spectrum inside each tunnel of the dome. Today, the luminarium exhibits tour the world. They have traveled to large cities such as Honolulu, Hawaii and Sydney, Australia, and have been visited more than 2 million times. Visitors come to these exhibits with scattered expectations, but Parkinson said each experience offers new insight.

“If [the guests] are first-time visitors, what they see is usually beyond their expectations; that is because it is a light and luminous space inside,” Parkinson said. “What I want this structure to arouse in people is an awareness of the phenomena of light and color. That is the prime intention.”

Since the luminarium is only in town for a limited time, it tends to draw large crowds. Visitors will wait in line for hours to get a chance to walk through the colorful dome.

“Austinites are looking for a unique experience,” said Karen Jantsch, programming manager at the Long Center. “Kids love it. Adults love it. Photographers love it. It’s just so universally appealing.”

The luminarium is popular among all ages, and offers a positive experience for both the visitors and the staff behind the event.

“Seeing the joy that it brings to people that get to experience it, as a programmer, that’s really all it’s about,” Jantsch said. “It’s going to be a memory that they hold with them.”

In past years, events like yoga classes and musical performances have been held inside of the luminarium, not only offering more time in the structure but providing a new perspective to ordinary experiences. For the first time, there will be a wedding, involving one of the volunteers of the Long Center, inside of the luminarium. Parkinson hopes that in the future, the luminarium will play host to more personal events and will become a place for performances and art presentations.  

“Anyone who wants to have a physical experience that involves sound and color and light and a little movement inside of this big plastic structure, anyone looking for something different, out of the usual and something you can’t get anywhere in Austin, come try it out,” said Ken Shepardson, the Long Center’s guest services manager.

Shepardson encourages Austinites to come see the luminarium while it is at the Long Center this week.

“I can’t promise it will change your life. I can’t promise it is going change your relationships or help you find true peace and happiness, but it’s something that if you do it, you won’t forget it,” Shepardson said. “If you open yourself to it, it’s something you will remember.”