In New York, the most glaring signs of the Great Recession are the stalled construction sites littering the city–boarded up, dusty, and desolate eyesores.

The architecture mega-firm Woods Bagot may have a solution, which they’ve just unveiled: Temporary, inflatable buildings that let the developers make money while they wait for their finances to shape up. “We tried to re-imagine how you could reuse those sites,” Jeff Holmes, the partner in charge of Woods Bagot’s New York office, told

Stalled sites pose a problem for developers whose financing has dried up in the recession because even when sites lay unused, they wrack up huge tax burdens–as much as $2 million a year. And sites can easily go fallow for 2 to 5 years.

“The biggest challenge is creating a quality scheme that can go in quickly, and be taken away even quicker,” says Holmes. Moreover, it’s hard for a temporary building to have a big, good-looking presence on the street–rather than being just a glorified drywall tent.

Holmes’s team solved the problem with what they call an Iceberg. Made of modular units that can be added up for larger sites, the design calls for a steel structure wrapped in high-tech plastic fabric called EFTE. But that fabric also has “air beams” stitched into it–structural supports that are basically big balloons, and are usually found in high-end pup tents and airplane evacuation ramps.

As a result, when inflated, the EFTE becomes a dramatic, faceted roof that turns the temporary building into big, dramatic piece of contemporary architecture. “The volume is almost nothing but air,” says Holmes. “Which means there’s a minimal carbon footprint.”

What’s more, Holmes and Woods Bagot believe that simple economics make the Icebergs into a win-win solution for developers. Given construction costs of about $2 million, they estimate that an Iceberg could bring in at least $1 million in rent in the first year, and $2 million after that. (They figured a rental rate of $450 a square foot; Manhattan retail spaces rent for between $250-$2,500.)

Moreover, because of the huge faceted planes on the Iceberg facade, they can become huge projection screens, drawing advertising revenues.

Photo by Fast Company.

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