Cubism, Op art, and dazzle camouflage are the inspirations behind a new architectural intervention which will be unveiled in London later this month. Artist Conrad Shawcross' The Optic Cloak is his design solution for a 160' high chimney flue which is part of the low carbon Greenwich Peninsula Energy Centre.
Because of the flue stack's size, which was originally going to be encased in a black steel box, it's impact on the landscape would have been quite prominent. Shawcross, along with engineers at Structure Workshop Ltd and C. F. Møller Architects, came up with the idea to coat it in a lighter-looking frame to make it appear more beguiling.
To do this, Shawcross looked at ways of breaking up the surface, taking inspiration from Cubism, along with artists like David Bomberg and the Vorticists. From these the artist came up with the idea to perforate the panels that would coat the flue stack, creating an optic construction rife with the moiré effect, a visual mathematical phenomenon where lines or dots superimposed onto another set of lines or dots, set at different angles, create a trick of perception. This gave the structure a translucent skin where sunlight could pass through, resulting in a paradoxical effect of both camouflage against the horizon and intrigue for people passing by.
To create the moiré effect, which is created through perspective and a single viewing point, the triangulated panels on the flue—made from anodized aluminium—were given an identical pattern. The dapples and apparitions and hole sizes are all the same, but then placed at different angles to create the optical pattern.
"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," explains 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," he says. "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 is 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."
Conrad Shawcross' The Optic Cloak will be officially launched on September 21, 2016. You can find out more about the artist here.