Black facades on everything from houses to skyscrapers are gaining more notice in recent years. Just flip through the pages of Phaidon’s 2017 book Black: Architecture in Monochrome to view striking dark structures by the likes of David Adjaye, Jean Nouvel, and Steven Holl. The Winter Olympics in Korea had its own black beauty, a pavilion designed by London architect Asif Khan for Hyundai Motor Company.
The structure’s black-coated parabolic façades created a void while thousands of tiny white lights set against this backdrop evoked floating stars in outer space. The effect was made possible with Vantablack VBx2, a new ultra-low-density paint developed by Surrey NanoSystems that, with 1 percent reflectance in the visible spectrum, appears matte and two-dimensional from any angle. “As you walk around it, your perception doesn’t change because the reflection is staying the same. This is almost unheard of in any black paint,” says Ben Jensen, the chief technical officer at Surrey NanoSystems. This project, however, was a one-off as Vantablack VBx2 is not rated for exterior application.
Still, there are numerous other black products for architectural façades that can help make a statement. Leading brick producer Glen-Gery, for one, offers extruded or cut units in Black Pearl, with customizable sheens and textures. Surfacing manufacturer Cosentino recently added new colors to its Dekton Industrial Collection, one of which is the bold acid-washed steel–evoking Radium. Impervious to the elements—from rain and UV rays to temperature—Radium is suitable for exterior cladding and is composed of up to 80 percent recycled materials. And wood companies like Delta Millworks and reSAWN TIMBER carry Shou Sugi Ban (charred wood) planks in a range of black hues and textures. Depending on the material, finish, and application, any of these can lend visual interest, whether the intention is to produce sleekness, mystery, or contrast.
As for the Olympic Village pavilion, Khan explains, “Today the bright light from our mobile devices and constant illumination from cities are becoming our new experience of the world. What might we be losing in this intoxicating journey to the future? I think materials such as Vantablack could be a means to harness darkness just as we have learned to harness light.”
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