• Kahn and Ohrstedt's Coca-Cola Beatbox at the London Olympics

    Credit: Hufton + Crow

    Kahn and Ohrstedt's Coca-Cola Beatbox at the London Olympics

When it comes to design, the London Olympics demonstrates just how much things have improved in the last two decades. Ever since Beijing exhibited its high-stakes commitment to avant-garde architecture in 2008, the Olympics has become a venue that celebrates the design of the physical environment as much as the events that take place within it. Risk-taking is now welcomed, and as London demonstrates, even young, less established names have been thrown into the mix along with prominent celebrity firms.

An example is the practice of Asif Kahn and Pernilla Ohrstedt, a small London boutique selected to design the Coca-Cola Beatbox" Although this commercial pavilion could easily have been a superficial billboard, Kahn and Ohrstedt have created a lively, inhabitable sculpture that invites interaction, enhances the multisensory experience of the Olympic park, and reinforces powerful themes that are central to the Olympic Games. Working with musician Mark Ronson and structural engineers AKT II, the architects have designed a musical pavilion that broadcasts preselected sound samples when visitors touch any of its 200 interlocked, illuminated air cushions.

The aggregation of the many panels—a strategy that makes a nod to the collective theme imparted by Thomas Heatherwick's Olympic Cauldron—celebrates the notion of interdependency in both literal (structural) and figurative (experiential soundtrack) senses. AKT II associate Ed Mosely describes the intricate balancing act required to assemble the collection of structural cushions for Domus: "The ETFE garlands' structural stability is based upon a reciprocal frame system of three interacting cushions bracing against each other. The depth of the system means that by itself it is still unstable and it is only when the next unit of three is interfaced with it that each pillow achieves the minimum three connections it needs to become stable."

The Beatbox pavilion thus appears to be a frozen explosion—a structure suspended in a moment of tenuous balance that precedes complete fragmentation or collapse. In this sense, the design successfully embodies the interdependent qualities of poise and risk that are dual objectives sought by olympic athletes, and it imparts this idea not only visually but also audibly.

Critics will note that the Coca-Cola Beatbox is still merely a commercial advertisement for the world's most visible soft-drink company. However, they need look no further than the Atlanta Olympics of 1996—which was heavily sponsored by this same corporation with much-less-inspired results—for proof of just how far design has come at the Olympic Games.