Tropical Islands: place of cosmic incongruity

Interview by Domenico Di Maio
Photo by Alberto Sinigaglia

Week 40

Tropical Islands is one of those hidden places that will take your breath away due to its cosmic incongruity.
A place that may be hiding a few blocks from where you live, in an old disused military facility, which you thought was inaccessible, silent and protected from prying eyes.
Tropical Islands upends the concept “you can’t always get what you want”, and, on the contrary, tries to transform itself into something it isn’t.
Tropical Islands is a German tropical theme park; built in a place where palm trees, sea and sand don’t occur naturally.
We proposed a few questions to Alberto Sinigaglia, someone who did not evade the occasion to visit the old Aerium hanger, as soon as the opportunity knocked on his door.

Domenico Di Maio) Hi Alberto, can you please tell our readers a little bit about yourself, where you began and where you are now?

Alberto Sinigaglia) Hi. I left Venice where I studied architecture at IUAV. After spending a few years in Milan, I lived in New York for a bit, where I attended a program at the School of Visual Art. Now I live and work in Vicenza.

DDM) This week, our CS issue is dedicated to ‘Defense’, and by chance we found out that you have recently visited this peculiar Tropical Islands place. What is it exactly?

AS) Tropical Islands is a tropical theme park housed in the former CargoLifter airship hanger otherwise known as Aerium, In turn, the hangar is housed in the former military airport Brand-Briesen, built between 1938 and 1939 by the Luftwaffe, and later occupied by the Red Army in 1945. It remained in use by the Soviets until the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Now, the hanger has become the sandy protagonist of Tropical Islands.

DDM) How big is this place exactly?

AS) The hangar is 360 m long, 220 m wide and 106 meters high. It could hold the Eiffel Tower and it’s the fourth largest building in the world by volume, and it’s the largest single hall on earth without supporting pillars. Bought in the early 2000’s by the Malaysian company Tanjong, it now houses the largest indoor water park in the world with a ton of tropical beach forest, as well as hot air balloons flying overhead.

DDM) How did you end up taking these photos? A chance discovery or the result of your own personal research?

AS) At that time I was working on a series of former military bases in the Berlin area. Also, a few months earlier I had randomly seen a documentary about it. Two clear signs that I could not ignore.

DDM) Where do you live now? Where will you be in the coming months?

AS) I live in Vicenza and I think I’ll stay here for the coming months.

DDM) What’s behind the Tropical Islands project, what did you want to express? To me personally, the photo arouses a strange sadness, and allows the viewer to obtain and experience something that does not exist naturally.

AS) During that time I was working on former military bases in Germany. The purpose of my visit was only to document. I had no critical intention in mind.
I am fascinated by the artificiality of these kinds of places, and I don’t rule out that Tropical Islands could fall within this larger thematic sphere. In the world there are more and more places like this, if we think about cities like Dubai or Singapore, artificially constructed urban landscapes. I am unsure if Tropical Islands is a positive or negative place, but think of living in Brandenburg or in Poland where you don’t see the sun for 200 days of the year. In reality, perhaps many families really like this place.

Alberto Sinigaglia, obtained his BA in architecture at Iuav University, Venice and attended the Photoglobal Programme at the School of Visual Arts (SVA) in New York. Sinigaglia is the co-founder of studio Kassel&Wassel and MAIBSH project. Since 2015 he is among the founders and a editor of GENDA Magazine. His artworks have been included in several group shows in Italy and abroad, and in 2014 his book ‘Big Sky Hunting’ was published by Editions du Lic/Skinnerboox.