The renowned British artist Conrad Shawcross has been commissioned by Knight Dragon to create a major new architectural intervention for the Greenwich Peninsula. The Optic Cloak will be completed in April 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.
Drawing on sources as diverse as maritime camouflage, Cubism and Op Art, Shawcross' optical cloak system is his 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 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 effect of the Moiré pattern. During the evening the tower will be lit from within, continually redefining the shape of the structure and its surroundings.
"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," explained Shawcross. "I started to research the history of camouflage as I was intrigued by its 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 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 reduces the frame's weight by 40% and creates more transparency in the composition of The Optic Cloak itself.
Photos: Conrad Shawcross