Artist Conrad Shawcross, the youngest Royal Academician, has been commissioned to create a major new architectural intervention for the Greenwich Peninsula. The Optic Cloaklaunches on 21 September 2016 as part of the Peninsula’s new low carbon Energy Centre, and has been designed in collaboration with the architectural practice CF Møller Architects. The Energy Centre will be completed in Autumn 2016.
Drawing on sources as diverse as maritime camouflage, Cubism and Op Art, The Optic Cloak is Shawcross’ most ambitious public commission to date, uniting sophisticated engineering and complex optical research. The monumental structure – 49 metres high by 20 metres wide and 3 metres deep – is constructed from aluminium cladding with perforated panels. These triangular panels fold across the surface of the tower forming intricate geometric patterns that visually break up the flat planes to create an uneven sculpted surface.
A key aspect of the design is the creation of the Optic Effect (sometimes referred to as the Moiré Effect), the first time Shawcross has ever used this optical phenomenon in his work. The effect is created by overlaying the perforations on each panel at different angles to each other, resulting in a dynamic and beguiling surface which appears to change continually.
The impactful and visually ambiguous new landmark offers a different viewing perspective from every angle. Facing east and west, The Optic Cloak’s two main surfaces will filter daylight enhancing both the form and the visual Optic Effect. During the evening the tower will be lit from within, continually redefining the shape of the structure and its surroundings.
Shawcross explains, “I wanted to create a response that celebrates the commission’s function as part of the Energy Centre’s flue, rather than trying to hide it. I started to research the history of camouflage as I was intrigued by it’s seemingly paradoxical nature – often it makes the object or animal it’s disguising more visually arresting. I was particularly interested in a type of Maritime Camouflage called ‘Dazzle Camo’ which was used on ships during the First World War, as well as in Cubism and Op Art. The idea is to break up the surface of the object, creating false perspectives and vanishing points. I thought it was important to give the commission a dynamic quality. For those passing, it will evolve radically as you pan by and under it.
“Another key issue I have remained very conscious of, and have used as a driver for the idea, is the fact that this a low carbon Energy Centre for the Peninsula and so the lightness and efficiency of the structure and form has been at the core of my thinking and the development of the design.”
To explore how he could make the design of the commission more efficient, Shawcross worked in partnership with CF Møller Architects, and engineers Structure Workshop Ltd, to re-model the original steel framework proposed for the outside of the flues. By transforming it from a heavy, traditional orthogonal frame into a lightweight, diagonal structure the innovative new design significantly reduces the frame’s weight and creates more transparency in the composition of The Optic Cloak itself.
The commission is one of many art-led initiatives which is transforming London’s Greenwich Peninsula from an industrial wasteland to an eclectic new neighbourhood home to 30,000 people, all wrapped by the river Thames. Covering 150 acres in the dynamic east of the city, the Peninsula is one of the largest regeneration projects in Europe.
The Peninsula already has a collection of existing high profile cultural assets including the 02, Ravensbourne College of Design & Communication, and artworks such as Antony Gormley’s Quantum Cloud and Richard Wilson’s A Slice of Reality sculptures. NOW gallery, a new contemporary arts space opened in September 2014 and a year later the Greenwich Peninsula unveiled Alex Chinneck’s A Bullet from a Shooting Star (an inverted electricity pylon) in partnership with the exhibition of Straight Jacket Star Jumps at NOW gallery.