‘Selfie’ façade with balls

A kinetic façade built like a giant pin-bed machine can reproduce portraits in a huge matrix of LED lights. The pavilion is located at the entrance to the Olympic park in Sochi. The project is called MegaFaces, after the Olympic’s main sponsor, MegaFon. It’s a design by Asif Khan, a rising star in the UK.

Visitors entering the pavilion can have photographs taken of their faces, from five angles simultaneously. These images are digitally constructed into a 3D image, which is sent to computers controlling the façade. On the building’s side, faces are magnified 35 times.

The façade itself consists of a large array of actuators, or large aluminium rods that move back and forth. At the end of each actuator is a polymer ball, and within each is a powerful RGB led light. The balls help diffuse the light, making the projected image soft and clear. As the actuators move in and out to recreate the shape of the visitor’s face, the lights add the right colours. In this way, a giant screen is created, that can even show moving images.

In total, 11.000 actuators form the screen of around 8m x 18m. These pins can slide in and out up to 2m, meaning that the façade has a large dynamic range. As each actuator has one poly-carbonate light-sphere attached to it, there are 11.000 pixels. To support the actuators, a strong steel support was bolted onto the main construction of the building. All this engineering work was carried out by Swiss firm iart.

The actuators were intended to fit behind a white, stretchy fabric skin, but construction delays meant this was no longer possible on time. However, this was not a problem, as the transparent poly-carbonate balls and the actuators are weather-resistant. All the electronics are hidden within the façade of the building. Instead, the transparent spheres are ‘free’ and the image is formed directly by these balls.

Each actuator is controlled independently, and react relatively quickly. This means that it only takes about one minute for an image to be rendered. You can see the façade in action in this video.

In 2013, the word ‘selfie’ made it into the dictionaries. Our love for seeing images of ourselves is clearly as strong as ever, as this highly popular Olympic pavilion demonstrates.


Photo credits: Hufton & Crow.