High-tech light-weight: the making of Ville Kokkonen and Exel’s ’Off the Grid’ parasol

High-tech light-weight: the making of Ville Kokkonen and Exel’s ’Off the Grid’ parasol

Part of the joy of our yearly Wallpaper* Handmade project comes from the breadth of experimentation witnessed. The ‘Off the Grid’ parasol is the epitome of this. Taking both design and technology in hand, Finnish designer Ville Kokkonen and composite technology firm Exel tried and tested materials to form a nomad-friendly, solar-powered parasol.

The work began as part of Kokkonen’s ongoing research into compact shelters. This, combined with Exel’s vast knowledge of technology material behaviours, enabled them to produce something that was both feather-light yet high performing. Doubling as a charging station, the parasol’s power is fuelled through the 48 monocrystalline photovoltaic cells on its outer surface. It’s high design with a conscience.

In addition to these environmentally friendly attributes, Kokkonen had another aim: to make the piece easy to travel with. What followed were various laboratory tests to choose an ultra-lightweight material that complemented the cells, yet maintained the refined, minimalist silhouette that Kokkonen envisioned.

They settled for carbon fibre, but this came with challenges. ‘When it comes to strength,’ Kokkonen explains, ‘lightweight materials tend to be flexible, which was a challenge with photovoltaic cells that are very fragile and always need a rigid back support.’ The former Artek design director didn’t stop there though, striving to continue experimentation further. He finally found a solution. ‘We managed to laminate the cells in between 0.7mm, ultra durable, chemically strengthened glass sheets (in Xensation®) together with carbon fibre. These sandwiched compact solar panel modules were flexible without breaking even under heavy stress.’

The innovation doesn’t stop there. Folding into a triangle, the dynamic piece is also highly compact, as to the Finnish designer’s wishes. ‘[It’s] something between micro-architecture and furniture.’ Who knew a parasol could have so many dimensions?

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