Pavilions are often erected at big global and civic events to highlight the virtues of the latest technologies, a particular national character, or good design itself through architecture. World fairs, biennales, and international expositions always make use of these specialized structures, and the 2018 Winter Olympics are no exception to that rule. Taking place in Pyeongchang, South Korea from February 9th to 25th, this year’s games will feature a pavilion that champions advancements in the creation of color — more specifically, the creation of Vantablack VBx, the darkest shade of black in the world.
The pavilion was commissioned by Hyundai as a means of promoting its new hydrogen fuel cell vehicle and designed by British architect Asif Khan, who describes himself as a “closet astronaut.” This characterization seems especially appropriate considering the pavilion’s concept and internal environment. The building was imagined as “a window cut into space” on the outside, but internally, a multisensory hydrophobic water installation carries 25,000 drops of water along grooves in the floor and pools them at its center. The contrast between these two designs is pronounced to say the least. Being that it’s the “darkest building in the world,” it’s quite a shock to see the futuristic, pristine conditions inside of it.
Vantablack is a color that’s been in development for a few years now, and it even made headlines back in 2016 when the infamous artist Anish Kapoor gained exclusive rights to its use. Of course, the Hyundai Pavilion only uses the advanced Vantablack VBx, a sprayable version of the original pigment with an entirely different compositional structure.
Construction began a steel frame, which was later clad with curved walls and sprayed with the paint. Since Vantablack VBx absorbs almost all light, the depth of the resulting structure is almost impossible to gauge. Reflecting nothing, it looks like a black hole. The curved walls enhance this effect, and they’re made even more mind-boggling by the installation of tiny, camouflaged LED rods at their tips, which themselves look like stars when lit up. Khan says, “It’s a preoccupation of mine, trying to create experiences to better understand where we are now as humans, placing ourselves in the big picture. I’m interested in that feeling of the sublime when you pull back the curtain of reality. It’s a different way of experiencing architecture.”
For humans to get a more coherent sense of the structure, it’s necessary for them to move around it and see it from all angles. Khan adds: “It changes as you approach it. From far away you see it as a surface of blackness, it just looks like a void. As you approach you pick out the stars, and as you get closer the stars begin to move in parallax, which means they appear as a three dimensional body. As you walk past it they’re almost globular in their clustering.”