Solar Pine: A Pavilion that Lights up its Surroundings
written by Harry Jun | photographed by Kyungsub Shin
materials provided by Hyoung-gul Kook
Deep in the Green Park built in the corporate HQ of POSCO Energy, located in Cheongna International City, Incheon, stands an extraordinary structure. This is formed from a round shell structured roof, made all the more striking with its eccentric swirling geometric patterning that sits on top of multiple lines of curving pipes. The name of this structure, which is here materialised in a three-dimensional structure by using a two-dimensional arc without a vertical frame, is Solar Pine. It is a sculptural structure that generates its own solar power. We will here consider what prompted the creation of Solar Pine, and how it was realised.
The Protagonists of the Project
There are three main agents that are part of the Solar Pine project. They are POSCO, POSCO A&C, and Hyoung-gul Kook (professor, Department of Architecture, Ewha Womans University). Three agents created Solar Pine by cooperating closely over a period of eight months, from January to August of 2016. How does Solar Pine relate to POSCO A&C? The story begins in 2015. POSCO A&C had been planning their future business based on their identity in terms of the design build concept, which involves both design and construction. They landed the Green Park project for the corporate HQ of POSCO Energy, and proposed a new structure for the park. The proposed architectural structure would have a production value that could be mass-produced in its modularity. The concept of solar power production was chosen for the fact that POSCO Energy is an energy company. Solar power generating structures already exist on the market in the form of pavilions and streetlights, but none of them could be considered to a high enough level of production. The attempt to develop a valuable product was necessary, because POSCO A&C needed to create a business platform that would excel in profit from mere design and construction, with expansion in the province of architecture. Intimidated by the massive rate of steel production of China in the 2000s, POSCO developed new finer quality materials and prepared to provide customized solutions as their new business weapons. These ‘weapons’ included researching lightweight cars for Volkswagen or creating superstrength steel suitable for skyscrapers. These developments lead to the suggestion that the process from technical problems to design must be expanded, leading to the formation of a Design Solution Team in the Steel Solution Marketing Department. This was an unusual attempt made by a steel company. Hearing the news that POSCO A&C was planning to build a new form of solar power generator, the Design Solution Team saw an opportunity to employ POSMAC, a steel sheet in the solar power structure half the thickness of galvanized steel sheet that can solve problems of corrosion. It would be a perfect way to create a new high value product using a premium product from POSCO and their design solution.
The view of Solar Pine which stands in the Green Park in Cheongna International City
Day and Night Functions
Solar Power Generating Sculpture Created by an Architect
Developing a solar power generating structure with high marketability that can lead to mass production, bearing in mind the aesthetics of form, structure and modulation,, is central to the process of creating a high-value product. However, a business is destined to invest in time and man-power in order to make a sale. An external specialist is an inevitable necessity to introduce concentrated effort and time. In that sense, Hyoung-gul Kook was a perfect man for the job, considering the conditions required from both companies. He was an expert in digital fabrication, drawing flexible transformations centred on modulation, and also had past work experience with POSCO’s POSMAC building a sculpture in Jeju Island. With three main agents finally gathered together, the development stage of the solar power generating structure began to accelerate. This is the final prototype, which took a geat deal of ideation, sample production, and installation over an eight month period, including six months on design and two months on construction. Using digital fabrication methods, Kook designed Solar Pine to be a structure which would function as a solar power generator, rest area, and a bench. The manufactured frame was prepared for mass production, which included the combination of nine units of modules to create the upper structure. The upper circular structure, with a 7.2m diameter, contains 54 solar modules, which generates 1200W per hour. The shell formed from geometric patterning, which expands to the shape of a pine-cone from the hole at the centre of the ceiling, creates a special restful place by matching with the splendid shadow pattern that comes through the sheet metal and the solar panels.
This isn’t the end. The structure is designed for prefabrication through bolting instead of welding, which solves complex problems of construction during site installations. The three-dimensional space, without a vertical frame, outlines the overall structural aesthetic, valued by architecture. Kook said, ‘Unlike those architectural projects that start from the ground up, Solar Pine began with the Sun. Its value as a well-made product emerges from the fact that it achieved maximum aesthetic functional results by using optimal technology instead of cutting-edge technology’. Moreover, the other strength is that it can be adjusted to any size. The system, which allows optimum output by controlling the variables via the computer, increases the value of Solar Pine as a product. Its final charm comes from using the conserved energy accrued throughout the day to light up the structure during the night.
Architecture as a Product
Solar Pine is not simply a solar power generating structure. It is a new massproduced high value product for POSCO A&C, and pioneering for POSCO in its adoption of premium materials at the design stage. To architect Hyoung-gul Kook, it was the most challenging work of all of his pavilions and installation projects. However, the most distinctive aspect of this project for all three agents must be that, as a product, is eminently marketable. According to POSCO A&C, the project is currently contacting multiple organisations to mass-market the product. Solar Pine needs to exceed the boundaries of the Green Park in order to be truly assessed as a valuable product, but the surrounding situations seem optimistic. The material price has been lowered due to the reduction over the last two years in the price of Chinese solar panels, and the unit price will be lower due to its modular form, the new materials and as such the design of Solar Pine is suitable for a premium market. The options are especially endless, considering it can provide solutions to anything that runs on electricity, including electric cars. The Solar Pine may be considered as the ‘Bang & Olufsen’ of the solar power generating sculpture market, with the will to create a world-class product through high-class materials and design. Can Solar Pine become a world-class brand? We’ll have to keep our eyes open.