Clean air at last for the people of Beijing, courtesy of big bubble-like biomes by design firm Orproject.

‘We are in a design bubble’, opined critic Lucas Verweij recently. The people of Beijing certainly will be if Orproject has its way. This London-based outfit has come up with a radical solution to the intractable problem of air pollution that smothers cities the world over, especially in the rising economies of Asia.

The proposal features vast, transparent domes, or ‘bubbles’, made of a high-strength, lightweight plastic called ETFE — the material used for the envelops of many recent spectacular buildings like the Allianz Arena in Munich by Herzog & de Meuron and the Water Cube in Beijing by PTW Architects.

Like a giant botanical garden, the space enclosed by the bubbles contains clean air. Temperature and humidity are controlled all year long. A ground source heat exchange system heats and cools the air. Solar cells attached to the surface generate electricity.

According to Orproject, construction of such a grand project is not so much an engineering challenge, since the construction is feasible, but a government challenge. It can therefore first be tested on smaller areas such as playgrounds or schoolyards.

According to the World Health Organization, some 223,000 deaths from lung cancer worldwide resulted from air pollution in 2010. Orproject’s bubbles might look extreme, but so too is the problem of air pollution.