MegaFaces: Architect Asif Khan’s kinetic façade for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics

MegaFaces: Architect Asif Khan’s kinetic façade for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics

London-based architecture firm Asif Khan Studio is going for gold at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics. The MegaFaces pavilion – a 2000 sq m cube created for Russian telecom company Megafon – features a vast kinetic façade that contorts into 3D recreations of visitor’s faces, relayed via digital scans made in nearby photo booths.

British-born Asif Khan’s latest Olympic endeavour, like his first for London 2012 Games (he paired up with Pernilla Ohrstedt to create a ’musical instrument’), draws on popular culture. It is inspired by the pinscreens of old, as well as the instant appeal of digital portraiture (think Facebook, selfies, emoticons, Facetime), transformed into a piece of architectural. ‘My instinct was to try and harness that immediacy in the form of sculpture; to turn the everyday moment into something epic,’ explains Khan. ‘I’ve been thinking of this as a kind of digital platform to express emotion, at the scale of architecture.’

To realise the pavilion, the architect teamed up with Basel-based engineering firm iart and digital sculptor Scott Eaton. Comprising 11,000 actuators sitting underneath the installation’s ’skin’ – made from a stretchy fabric – the installation will reveal spectators’ faces on the side of the building, three at a time, magnified at 3,500 times their original size up to a height of 8m.

MegaFaces is effectively the world’s first three-dimensionally actuated large-scale LED screen. Each actuator, capped by an RGB LED light, acts as one pixel within the entire façade and can be controlled individually to change colour as part of an image or video, or extend by up to two metres to form part of a three-dimensional shape.

The concept of metamorphosis has pulsed at the heart of Khan’s architectural practice since the beginning. The installation for Sochi evokes the studio’s first ever project, West Beach Café in England’s Littlehampton, a cube-shaped build with an adaptable façade that enabled it to be transformed from a closed to an open space.

This latest undertaking is reflective of how Khan, who describes the pavilion as ‘a synergy between architecture and digital platform’, has evolved his design language to respond to the ever-changing forms of new media. ‘The concept is to make people the face of the Olympics,’ adds the architect. ’At the same time it’s a monument to all of us.’

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