When the Winter Olympics opening ceremony kicks off tonight, athletes from around the world will parade through South Korea’s Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium dressed in vibrant ensembles. But not far from this colorful spectacle sits a new structure that might very well be the darkest building in the world. As Lauren Ro reports for the Curbed, British architect Asif Khan has completely covered the UK’s Olympic pavilion in Pyeongchang with a version of Vantablack, the blackest pigment on the planet. The mind-bending structure will be unveiled on the same day as the opening ceremony.
The pavilion, which was sponsored by Hyundai, is made of steel and has a parabolic façade. But because it is coated in Vantablack VBx2, which absorbs 99 percent of light, it is difficult for the human eye to make out the contours of the building, as Keshia Badalge explains for ArchDaily. The pavilion’s walls are covered with thousands of little white light rods, making the structure resemble a twinkling night sky.
"From a distance, the structure has the appearance of a window looking into the depths of outer space," Khan said in a statement, according to Badalge. "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 UK lab Surrey Nanosystems unveiled VBx2's predecessor Vantablack in 2014. The pigment is made of carbon nanotube arrays and absorbs 99.96 percent of the light that hits it; when it is applied to 3-D objects, Vantablack can make even the most textured surfaces appear flat. Vantablack was originally intended to help reduce stray light in telescopes and satellites, but according to Anny Shaw of the Art Newspaper, Surrey Nanosystems was overwhelmed by requests from artists, designers and architects, who all wanted to get their hands on the super black pigment.
The company subsequently gave the British artist Anish Kapoor exclusive rights to use Vantablack, prompting an outcry in the artistic community. The artist Stuart Semple was so incensed that he created the world’s “pinkest pink” and “most glittery glitter,” which he made available to all artists—except Kapoor.
VBx2, which is sprayed onto surfaces, is a bit different from Vantablack. It is not based on carbon nanotubes, for one thing, and it is not quite as black. It also appears matt from all viewing angles, Ben Jensen, the chief technical officer at Surrey NanoSystems, tells Shaw. As Oliver Wainwright of the Guardian reports, the company plans to launch VBx2 next month, but the pigment can only be applied by trained specialists.
Khan has been working with Surrey Nanosystems since 2013, and first proposed his ambitious plans for the Olympic pavilion in 2015. The interior of the building is just as remarkable as its exterior. The room is entirely white, with a water installation that releases 25,000 droplets every minute. By interacting with sensors, visitors can create rhythms in the droplets as they collide.
Explaining his vision in a statement, Khan said that when visitors move from the deep black exterior of the pavilion to the stark installation inside, they will “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.”