Asif Khan’s Winter Olympics structure is cloaked in a nano-coating that absorbs 99 per cent of visible light


Luke Hayes

A spray coating that absorbs 99 per cent of visible light has been applied to a pavilion at the Winter Olympics in South Korea designed by London-based architect Asif Khan. Vantablack VBx2 creates a very low density film with an open nanostructure, rendering the surface very dark even in broad daylight.


Khan’s pavilion, commissioned by Hyundai Motor for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics 2018, is illuminated by a ‘field’ of stars that appears to float in mid-air. The structure’s 10-metre-high parabolic facades are punctuated by thousands of tiny white lights which, during the day, are intended to simulate the view into space from that point on earth.


Inside the 35×35-metre structure, a multi-sensory hydrophobic installation emits 25,000 water droplets every minute. Visitors’ movements are detected by a series of haptic sensors that create rhythms as the droplets collide, join and split across the watery landscape. The flows of droplets collect, grow and build into a ‘lake’ which drains and reappears in a cycle lasting several minutes.

“From a distance the structure has the appearance of a window looking into the depths of outer space”, says Khan. “As you approach it, this impression grows to fill your entire field of view. So on entering the building, it feels as though you are being absorbed into a cloud of blackness. The water installation inside is brightly lit in white. As your eyes adjust, you feel for a moment that the tiny water drops are at the scale of the stars.  A water droplet is a size every visitor is familiar with. In the project I wanted to move from the scale of the cosmos to the scale of water droplets in a few steps. The droplets contain the same hydrogen from the beginning of the universe as the stars.”

Asif Khan has worked with the manufacturer of Vantablack since 2013 and first proposed its use in his shortlisted design for the UK Pavilion at Milan Expo 2015. He designed the Coca-Cola pavilion for the 2012 London Olympic Games, the MegaFaces pavilion at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, and the UK Pavilion at the Astana Expo in 2017. He is currently working on the new Museum of London at Smithfield.


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