When Alvin Huang and his colleagues at Synthesis Design + Architecture (SDA) saw the brief for Volvo’s “Switch to Pure Volvo” competition, they decided to give the auto manufacturer more than it had asked for. The competition, which was organized by The Plan magazine, asked architects to design an iconic, yet portable, pavilion for the new Volvo V60 plug-in hybrid electric car. SDA came up with the Pure Tension pavilion, a steel-frame structure that not only assembles in an hour, but is small enough to fit in the trunk of the car. And the pavilion doesn’t just showcase the car: it also charges it, thanks to 252 lightweight flexible photovoltaic panels incorporated into the structure’s mesh fabric surface.
“[We were] really thinking about the potential for this to be more of an application than an object,” Huang said.
SDA’s Pure Tension pavilion beat out 150 other entries to win the competition last spring, and has since begun a 9-month promotional tour with the car brand, to culminate in an appearance at The Plan’s annual Perspective event next summer. A product of SDA’s ongoing research into dynamic mesh relaxation, the Pure Tension pavilion comprises a CNC bent aluminum frame with a two-piece vinyl encapsulated polyester mesh membrane. The photovoltaic panels are arrayed within an applied black-on-white graphic that accentuates the pavilion’s curves. SDA utilized intensive solar incidence analysis to place the panels for maximum exposure to sunlight, while an integrated Maximum Power Point Tracking controller automatically disables underperforming cells to optimize power collection. The power from the panels goes to an attached battery pack, which in turn delivers a steady charge to the car. The entire system weighs only 150 pounds and fits into two 65-inch-by-15-inch-by-15-inch rifle cases.
Huang sees the Pure Tension pavilion as a meditation on how the move away from fossil fuels might transform car culture. “It’s more a vision of the future, much the way a concept car is,” he said. “It’s not meant to be a production item, more like an attitude being taken, where we want to explore.” Huang highlighted two features of the pavilion in particular. First, there’s the fact that the pavilion simultaneously charges and shades the care. “One of the problems with charging electric cars is that charging generates heat,” he explained. “You have to put them in the sun.” The Pure Tension pavilion protects the Volvo V60 hybrid from overheating while harnessing solar energy for later use. In addition, because the pavilion sends energy from the photovoltaic panels to a battery pack, it doesn’t need to be attached to the car in order to do its work. “In theory,” Huang said, “you can set up the pavilion, drive away, come back, and charge [your car]…as opposed to setting it up and getting three minutes of charge because you’re stopped for three minutes.”
The pavilion was designed by SDA with structural engineering help from Buro Happold Los Angeles. It was fabricated by Fabric Images in Chicago, with custom photovoltaic panels by Texas company Ascent Solar.