Synthesis Design + Architecture

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Los Angeles, CA


Synthesis wins the Volvo "Switch to Pure Volvo" Pavilion Design Competition

Alvin Huang, AIA
Jul 10, '13 8:12 PM EST

Synthesis Design + Architecture (SDA), the forward-thinking Los Angeles-based architecture firm led by architect and USC professor, Alvin Huang, has recently won an international competition to design a rapidly deployable pavilion to showcase Volvo’s new plug-in electric hybrid, the V60.

Volvo’s “Switch to Pure Volvo” competition, organized by international architecture magazine THE PLAN, called for an innovative and original design for a temporary pavilion that expressed a “strong and creative identity” to showcase the car at fairs and open air presentations in Italian squares. 

SDA’s approach was to use the car’s design as a flexible and sustainable vehicle as the basis to reimagine the typical trade show pavilion. Toward this end, SDA emphasized the qualities of dynamic form, interactivity, visual impact, functionality, and efficiency to create a novel temporary structure that while iconic also offers high-performance. The design integrates structure, form, and performance by utilizing a continuous organic form composed of HDPE mesh fabric with integrated photovoltaic panels tensioned over carbon fiber rods. In fact, the digitally designed contours of the mesh fabric are what bend the rods into their curvy forms. The result calls to mind the image of an elegantly diaphanous orchid.

The jury felt SDA’s solution was the strongest and most original out of over 150 submissions from around the world. From jury statements, the pavilion embodied “visual impact”, “high quality”, and “the advancement of technology through form, materials, and functionality.” They appreciated that the pavilion also functioned as a “photovoltaic shelter”.

“This competition presented us with a unique challenge as architects,” says SDA principal and founder, Alvin Huang. “It addressed issues we are constantly working on and offered the potential to address sustainability as something much broader that can also encompass issues of identity, contemporary culture, materiality, permanence, and personal mobility.”

The pavilion itself is highly mobile. In SDA’s proposal, it is shown arriving on site in the back of a V60, completely collapsed into a small tent bag. “It was important that it be easy deploy, break down, and move around,” says Huang. What is truly remarkable about the design is that once assembled it looks like one continuous smooth surface without the usual expression of components.

For SDA it was important that the design be imbued with the same vision of energy efficiency and sustainability as the V60. With its embedded photovoltaics the pavilion functions as “charger” for the V60 on display, with the charging cable concealed within and peeling away from the tubing. The use of light weight high-tech materials and photovoltaic power generation makes the pavilion extremely cost-effective for fabrication, transportation, and set up. This is another factor that went into the jury’s decision. It does not require a large crew or the use of a truck or other additional equipment for installation.

In the broader sense, the pavilion expresses SDA’s on-going exploration of integrating performance with dynamic forms and pushing the boundaries of materials and geometries to create compelling and moving spatial experiences.

Engineering firm Buro Happold is providing structural engineering. As Greg Otto, principal of Buro Happold Los Angeles says, “Membrane structures present numerous challenges in converging architectural intentions with engineering first principles. Our engineering team will refine the geometries prepared by SDA using proprietary software based upon dynamic relaxation to optimize the form, design the structural boundary conditions, and ultimately pattern the fabric.”

In preparation for the official launch on September 15th in Italy—location to be disclosed at a later date—SDA’s team is currently developing the design as the pavilion heads into fabrication with Fabric Images of Chicago. The team will also be working in collaboration with the Volvo Design Center in Camarillo, California.

Additional high resolution images, drawings, and diagrams can be found here.

All images copyrighted to Synthesis Design + Architecture, Inc.