Commissioned by Russian telecoms firm MegaFon, designer and architect Asif Khan is giving visitors to the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi the chance to create self-portraits on an epic scale. He’s built a pavilion at the Sochi park entrance that houses a 2,000 metre-square kinetic façade. Photo booths within the building scan visitor’s faces and then they’re recreated on the façade – judging by these photos and the video shown below, it’s a pretty impressive undertaking. The finished articles are 8-metre high 3D selfies, displayed 3 at a time on the massive screen.


The design and concept are Khan’s, but he called in Basel-based engineering firm iart to help him realise his vision. “Each of the 11,000 actuators carries at its tip a translucent sphere that contains an RGB LED light,” says Valentin Spiess, CEO at iart. “The actuators are connected in a bidirectional system which makes it possible to control each one individually, and at the same time also report back its exact position to the system. Each actuator acts as one pixel within the entire façade and can be extended by up to two metres as part of a three-dimensional shape or change colour as part of an image or video that is simultaneously displayed on the facade.” According to Spiess, the process of creating a selfie at the pavilion is as “fast and simple as using a commercial photo booth”.


Khan has form with Olympic pavilions, having created the Coca-Cola Beatbox pavilion for the London 2012 Games. That piece featured a series of interlocking ETFE cushions with sound embedded within them, meaning that visitors could ‘play’ the pavilion like a musical instrument. Both the London and Sochi pavilions reflect Khan’s general interest in creating transformative structures.


“For thousands of years people have used portraiture to record their history on the landscape, buildings and through public art,” says Khan of the Sochi work. “I’m inspired by the way the world is changing around us and how architecture can respond to it. Selfies, emoticons, Facebook and FaceTime have become universal shorthand for communicating in the digital age. My instinct was to try and harness that immediacy in the form of sculpture; to turn the everyday moment into something epic. I’ve been thinking of this as a kind of digital platform to express emotion, at the scale of architecture.”


Concept, design and architecture: Asif Khan

Interactive engineer: iart

Structural engineer: AKTII

Services engineer: Atelier 10

QS/Project management: Davis Langdon

Local/digital architect: Progress

Agency: Axis