Architects: Synthesis Design + Architecture (SDA)
Client: Volvo Car Italia
Structural Engineers: Buro Happold
Contractor: Ascent Solar Technologies Contractor: Fabric Images, Inc.
Photographs: Courtesy of SDA
After months of design refinement and engineering, Synthesis Design + Architecture (SDA), winners of the “Switch to Pure Volvo” architecture competition, have launched a free-standing mobile pavilion capable of harnessing solar energy to power the new Volvo V60, the world’s first diesel plug-in hybrid car. The ‘Pure Tension’ Pavilion was birthed by SDA’s extensive research on dynamic mesh relaxation, utilizing bendable, lightweight aluminum structures with flexible fabrics that can be stored in the trunk of the car and easily mounted within one hour, similar to a tent.
The pavilion’s form is more than just visual gymnastics. 252 flexible photovoltaic vinyl tiles sweep the surface of the mesh in order to optimize their exposure to the sun, based on annual sun paths in Italy. Power generated from each cell travels via the mesh and into a battery that charges the vehicle. The collapsable mesh structure suggests a future in which vehicular mobility is no longer dependent on gas or charging stations to refuel but rather from self-generated solar energy.
“Anything that could reduce the solar heating of the car, while also providing the electricity that the car wants is a win-win situation,” noted Ichiro Sugioka, Science Officer at Volvo, “And to do it in such an efficient way, in such a beautiful way is something our innovation team was looking for.”
The pavilion is a result of a collaborative effort between designers, engineering, fabric and solar specialists, carried out in Los Angeles by SDA, Buro Happold and Ascent Solar technologies, and Fabric Images in Chicago.
The perimeter frame of the structure is defined by a CNC bent aluminum pipe system with swaged slip fit connections, while the tensile membrane skin is materialized as a vinyl encapsulated polyester mesh membrane.
The perimeter frame was rationalized from a free-form geometry to exactly five rational arcs enabling an efficient and cost effective fabrication strategy. It is manufactured in 24 parts, which along with the skin collapse neatly into two 65” x 15” x 15” ‘B-cases’. The membrane comes in two pieces with a zippered seam and spandex sleeves that wrap the aluminum frame. Collectively, the pavilion weighs 150 lbs.
Despite the intensive solar analysis resultant pattern and multi-directional form of the pavilion places solar panels pointing in multiple directions, and solar arrays are only as powerful as their weakest link. To resolve this, a MPPT (maximum power point transmission) controller is utilized to sample the output of the cells, and selectively disable those that are not collecting enough energy, thereby ensuring that the pavilion is receiving as much charge as possible in any given orientation. The target goal to achieve the minimum power required to charge the car was 300 watts of power. The current skin is testing at about 450 watts of power on optimum sun conditions.
“We wanted to challenge the notion of solar power as something that is an additive piece of engineering infrastructure,” says Synthesis founder and principal, Alvin Huang. “The solar panels became a design feature and design driver, rather than something applied after the fact. The goal was to balance utility with beauty.”