Rapidly Deployable Structure, 2004–present

Hoberman Associates, Inc.

Location: New York, New York
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Transformation, the changing of one form into another, is a fundamental process in the natural world. But rarely do we have the opportunity to encounter its technical and aesthetic applications in nature’s counterpart, the mechanical domain. Chuck Hoberman, an inventor, artist, engineer, and designer, has dedicated over twenty years to transforming objects, including deployable or unfolding structures. From palm-size studies in paper and plastic to a seventy-two-foot-wide aluminum “theater curtain,” structures Hoberman has created organize synchronous movements into a fluidly transforming whole.

When Hoberman was approached by Johnson Outdoors, a major tent manufacturer, the company had identified the need for large-scale tents that could be erected very quickly for military, emergency-response, and commercial use. Hoberman created the Rapidly Deployable Structure (RDS), an “instant shelter” that was 500 square feet, could fit in a small truck, and was capable of being set up by four people or fewer. In addition, the tent withstands winds of up to sixty-five miles per hour and snow loads of up to 4,000 pounds, and endures hundreds of sets and strikes. RDS can be set up in under three minutes, compared to other shelters that take up to eight minutes. Good ergonomic design enabled this increase in speed, as users are able to maintain a natural standing position during deployment. Special handles make final cable-tensioning and locking operations simple and easy to perform.

Johnson Outdoors pushed the innovations even further by developing new manufacturing techniques, allowing the use of advanced lightweight fabrics which operate under the harshest conditions and, for ultimate night camouflage, block all visible and infrared light from the tent. The fabric also acts as a tensioning element, which prevents distortion of the tent under high loads.

Through his years of exploration, Hoberman has pinpointed the critical parameters for the successful creation of transformative objects. The process of transformation itself must be complete and fully three-dimensional, smooth and continuous, reversible and repeatable. The explanation may be rooted in science and geometry, but the structure is a symbol of the elegant promise of technology.