Solar Pavilion 1

Solar One

Situ Studio was commissioned to design a set of exhibits for a solar-powered festival devoted to raising public awareness about environmental sustainability and green issues. The annual CitySOL Festival is held in Stuyvesant Cove Park along Manhattan's East River.  SolarOne, a non-profit environmental education center, asked us to create an exhibition that would feature the themes of solar power, wind power, hybrid taxis, recycling and congestion pricing.

Working on an extremely low budget Situ Studio was able to secure donations for a large quantity of material, much of it considered waste by their donors.  This component of adaptive reuse supplemented the sustainable nature of each exhibit in addition to defining a major constraint by which the designs would develop.  Instead of being restricted by these limits, the exhibits emerged from a positive consideration of material properties.


The Solar Pavilion sits opposite Solar One’s concert stage and provides shade from the sun as well as a seating and gathering area for the audience.  The cellular structure is made of thousands of cardboard tubes of various lengths and diameters bolted together producing an organic pattern.  Based on simple rules governing how tubes were cut and joined, the structure was expanded outward from a single column cluster.  Through a process akin to growth, the local rules of assembly were followed with a sufficient degree of freedom to produce an intended circulation scheme.  The construction algorithm was based on the structural capacity of the cardboard tubes, as well as passive solar considerations.

The overall form of the pavilion thus became a diagram of structural loads.  Each column is a bundle of many tubes, organized according to the lengths of spans between bundles.  Progressively shorter tubes arch outward from the bundles forming continuous catenary shells with the shortest and lightest members at midspans.  The bases of the columns contain clusters of shorter capped tubes that provide increased width for stability as well as serving as seats and tables for the public. For passive solar orientation, the columns are all tilted slightly northward and the tops of each tube are aligned at a sharp angle away from the sun.  This provides a comfortable amount of shade while also producing a complex pattern of light and shadow on the ground.


The existing site conditions included three large granite blocks that functioned as viewing platforms during concerts as well as sun bathing beds on hot summer days.  In our research for discarded materials we discovered bales of crushed plastic bottles and metal cans at a recycling plant in Jersey City that approximated the dimensions of the granite blocks. The goal was to provide more seating for the concert crowd while drawing attention to the materiality of the bales, their origins, and possible new uses. The sides were wrapped in steel mesh while the tops received a complete resurfacing with 1” thick, recycled high-density polyethylene (HDPE) – the material used for plastic grocery bags.  Organic textures were digitally modeled and CNC routed onto these surfaces providing a more comfortable seating platform.


Along the entire riverfront that bounded the festival grounds, Situ raised an array of wind turbines.  Seven uniquely painted turbines of different types and sizes were cantilevered off of the railing and over the river.  Each one hoisted to a different height, the turbines produced a variety of spinning patterns.

This exhibit also employed the use of recycled materials with advanced manufacturing technology.  The airfoils and propeller blades were all milled with a CNC router from environmentally-friendly polyurethane foam and then coated in non-toxic resin.  The support columns were made of cardboard tubes and a system of bearings.  The cantilevered beams were built with salvaged steel angle and “synthetic lumber” made of recycled plastic.