Will Sophie Smallhornn Eclipse Ai Weiwei With Her Olympic Stadium Shell

The seven million pound fabric wrap for the olympic stadium, which was sponsored by the controversial Dow Chemical company is ready for testing ahead of the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony, organised by the oscar winning director Danny Boyle. The challenge of creating an outstanding shell covering for the stadium has much to live up to, after Ai Weiwei’s groundbreaking treatment of the Birds Nest Stadium, in Beijing in 2008.

The London stadium wrap is compiled of canvas banners that run from the top to the bottom of the stadium’s exterior, creating 300 smaller ‘doorways’. Each banner is assigned a different colour from a palette of 56 colours in total to create an undulating effect. Smallhorn was given the brief to emphasise the four main brand colours used in the Wolff Olins Olympic logo – green, blue, pink and orange, with each colour designating one of the four stadium entrances.

Sophie Smallhorn’s work explores ideas of colour, form and proportion. She creates simple abstract three dimensional pieces that act as vehicles to hold studies of colour; almost always formal, hard edged, graphic, often almost architectural in their aesthetic. Working with colour is a purely intuitive process of design-led decisions based on creating work that explore the juxtaposition of ‘easy’ and ‘difficult’ palettes. Within the formality of a piece colours will move to explore ideas of order and chaos, balance and imbalance within chromatic interactions.

The monochrome structure is Smallhorn’s perfect canvas onto which her colour story unfolds. Using canvas banners running from top to bottom of the exterior of the stadium, Smallhorn assigns a specific colour to each individual banner, creating a colour spectrum encircling the building. The stadium design is an open structure with a space between each banner creating over 300 ‘doorways’ that invite the visitor to enter. This idea of ‘doorways’ was the inspiration in conceiving the palette of 56 colours, that apart from the four anchored brand colours,  has no particular hierarchy or system. What it does do is create a dynamic rhythm of colour and energy adding to the sense of excitement that unfolds within the Stadium.

Sophie Smallhorn says, ‘For me, colour is an international language, understood by all on many levels. To be given the opportunity to breathe colour into this iconic Olympic building and to influence how people might approach and interact with it has been truly inspiring.

Smallhorn was born in 1971 and is an artist and consultant. She studied furniture at Brighton University (1991-1994). Her sculptural pieces were initially a byproduct of the furniture making, made of off cuts. On leaving college and moving to London she found herself halfway between the art world and the design world. Her work ranges in size and medium from small to large scale, sculpture to architecture, fashion to design. The Olympic Stadium project, commissioned by Populous in 2008, marks her largest work to date. She has worked closely with the architectural team to devise a creative solution to bring colour onto the structure. Colour has an inherent role in the Olympic Games, past and present, whether part of the iconic five-ring symbol or the flags of the 204 countries participating. The resulting artwork is inspired by this knowledge.

Populous, which was respsonsibe for the main wrap design, appointed Sophie Smallhorn for the project prior to the announcement of Dow’s sponsorship in summer 2011.

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