London architect Asif Khan's 2,000 square-meter (21,500 sq ft) pavilion has been called the “Mount Rushmore of the digital age,” and its aim is to “make people the face of the Olympics.” The façade of the pavilion, sponsored by MegaFon, contains 10,000 actuators (or giant pins), which will create a changing display of three-dimensional portraits.

The 3D portraits of individual members of the public will appear 8 meters (26 ft) in height on one side of the building, in sets of three at a time. These "sculpted" images will be generated by participants using special 3D photo booths placed inside the pavilion and in MegaFon retail outlets around the country – so even those not attending the events can participate. MegaFon is one of Russia’s largest telecoms companies and a key partner in the 2014 Winter Olympics.

High-tech populism

Like many of the Games that have come before, the XXII Winter Olympics of 2014 has spawned Olympian efforts in architecture and design for the park and various competition venues. Asif Khan’s 3D portrait façade has to be among the most daring, involving digital technology, public participation, thousands of mechanical components and a pliable fabric membrane, which will be manipulated by the pins beneath.

Each mechanical actuator can extend to a length of 2 meters (6.5 ft), to allow for a range of facial topography and so that the images can be accurately produced at such a large scale. Each actuator is also fitted with an RGB LED light at the tip, so that the position of every pixel can be calculated and the portraits can be produced in color.

Crowd-sourced production

The process sounds fairly straightforward, if impressive. It will take approximately one minute for the system to calculate a three-dimensional model from five individual pictures, which will be taken in the photo booths. After a scan has been made, the 3D image will be processed and fed to the mechanical field. Each face will be displayed for up to 20 seconds. In this way, the architects predict that over 170,000 visitors will be able to have their faces scanned and displayed.

Portraits in the information age

Khan sees his structure as a reflection both of a historical continuum of portraiture and of the contemporary fascination with “taking a self-portrait and sending it to friends," more commonly known as “selfies.” One could also posit that it reflects a certain self-obsession carried out in the public realm, which has also been viewed as a byproduct of such digital sharing. By contrast, Gutzom Borglum’s 18-meter (60-ft) tall presidential visages carved from South Dakota granite took 12 years to achieve and are all about selective veneration, as well as permanence.

MegaFon hopes that the pavilion will function as "a very important metaphor of the unity of Russian sports fans and supporters." It will certainly have an immediate impact, as it is sited at the entrance to the Olympic Park. The main venue, the Fisht Olympic Stadium, named for nearby Mount Fisht, was designed by sports architecture specialist Populous (which was also responsible for the main stadium of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London).

A test of the façade system can be seen in the video below, courtesy of Asif Khan and iart.

Source: Asif Khan

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