Volvo, together with the Italian architecture magazine The Plan, launched an international design competition – ‘Switch to Pure Volvo’ – that challenged designers and architects to design a temporary pavilion for Volvo’s new plug-in hybrid electric car in order to showcase it at fairs and open-air presentations in Italian squares. Los Angeles-based architecture firm Synthesis Design + Architecture (SDA) won the competition with its ‘PURE Tension’ design.

“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 firm’s design solution consists of a continuous organic form composed of vinyl encapsulated polyester mesh fabric with integrated flexible photovoltaic panels tensioned over CNC-bent aluminium pipes. In fact, the digitally designed contours of the mesh fabric are what bend the rods into their curvy forms.

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 lightweight high-tech materials and photovoltaic power generation makes the pavilion extremely cost-effective for fabrication, transportation and set up. 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 to deploy, break down and move around,” says Huang.

The jury felt PURE Tension was the strongest and most original out of over 150 submissions from around the world. They thought the design remarkable in that, once assembled, it looks like one continuous smooth surface without the usual expression of components. From jury statements, the pavilion embodied “visual impact”, “high quality” and “the advancement of technology through form, materials and functionality”.

The jury also appreciated that the pavilion functioned as a “photovoltaic shelter” that does not require a large crew or the use of a truck or other additional equipment for installation and break down.

The PURE Tension design is currently being developed and fabricated with a range of partners, including the Volvo Design Center in Camarillo, California. It will be officially launched on 15 September 2013 at a location in Italy, which will be disclosed closer to the time.

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