Pyeongchang is currently gleaming white with snow — much of it manufactured for the 2018 Winter Olympics — but there’s one new structure in the South Korean county that stands out completely: the darkest building on Earth. Designed by British architect Asif Khan, the slope-roofed pavilion stands about 32-feet tall at its pinnacle. It is entirely coated in (you guessed it) Vantablack, the blackest synthetic material on the planet.
Specifically, Khan and his studio used Vantablack VBx2, a derivative of the nanomaterial to which Anish Kapoor controversially received the exclusive rights in 2016. Developed by the British company Surrey Nanosystems, Vantablack absorbs 99.965% of the light that hits its surface; the VBx2 coating absorbs 99%.
Surrey Nanosystems created VBx2 specifically to cover large-scale areas like ceilings, rooms, or entire buildings. Khan, who has been working with the company since 2013, had originally proposed using the material for the UK Pavilion at Milan Expo 2015. His Pyeongchang building represents his third Olympics pavilion, following his musical building for the 2012 London Olympic Games (sponsored by Coca-Cola) and his “MegaFaces” pavilion for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics (sponsored by Russian telecom network MegaFon).
This super-black one is sponsored by Hyundai, the official partner of the Winter Olympics, so it’s called the Hyundai Pavilion. It’s both an example of how Surrey Nanosystems’ technology can impact architecture and an artsy way for Hyundai to promote its new Hydrogen Fuel Cell vehicle, which is powered by renewable energy. Instead of displaying the car, the company collaborated with Khan to design an abstract representation of its product.
The building’s exterior is illuminated by thousands of lights, to give the “appearance of a window looking into the depths of outer space,” Khan told Hyperallergic. Its inside is actually exceedingly bright, sheltering a multi-sensory water installation, where water drops move through tiny straits carved into an expansive plane. Outfitted with haptic sensors, the installation responds to visitors’ interactions.
“The pavilion was designed to simulate the darkness of space and the creation of starlight by hydrogen, the original fuel of the universe,” Khan told Hyperallergic. “The star field and water drop installation we designed tell this cosmic story in the space of a few steps.”
The pavilion also houses light-filled installations in other spaces called the “Room of Electrolysis,” the “Room of Sunlight,” and the “Room of Fuel Cell.”
Unlike its predecessor, Vantablack Vbx2 is available for anyone to use, although it’s not your average art material. As it cannot be applied with normal spray painting techniques, Surrey Nanosystems is only supplying the coating to specialist paint contractors who have taken its training program.
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