Artist Conrad Shawcross’s Optic Cloak reimagines an emissions tower in London’s Greenwich as a multifaceted sculptural form.
Set atop the C. F. Møller-designed low carbon Energy Centre within the Greenwich Peninsula development, The Optic Cloak is the fruit of a competition for an artwork that would help conceal 50-metre-high flues. The architects originally planned to box off the flues and invited artists to add or enhance the structure. Shawcross instead proposed replacing the surround entirely, making the ‘cloak’ itself the work.
‘I was keen not to just bolt another object to the side,’ explained Shawcross standing on the roof of the Energy Centre at the unveiling of his architectural intervention.
Mindful of the Centre’s low carbon commitment he proposed creating a structure that was ‘lighter than when I started’. This was achieved both by replacing the orthogonal frame with a primary frame that echoed the diagonal line of the panels cladding the tower, and by using perforated aluminium for the panels themselves.
Taking advantage of the site’s strong East/West position, the perforations and pleated tiling system make the structure ‘very sensitive to light conditions,’ explains the artist. ‘It can be very translucent and structural, then, when the sun hits it, it becomes very solid.’
Layered patterns of perforated dots also creates a moiré effect as you move around the structure. Shawcross took cues from camouflage and Cubism to break up its mass and make it dynamic. ‘I was trying to create a new architectural skin without using electricity, and in a very analogue way.’
The Energy Centre itself will be switched on in December of this year, and the first of nine eventual flues will shortly be inserted into The Optic Cloak’s supporting structure. The Centre will eventually provide heat energy for the 15,000 new homes and other edifices under construction on the 150-acre peninsula currently being developed by Knight Dragon.
After years of wrangling with engineers to create a structure that both serves a purpose and which, he hopes, will become ‘a loved local landmark’, Shawcross has admitted that even he has been pleasantly surprised. ‘Some of the optic effects have gone beyond what I was expecting,’ he says.
A smaller model, Study for The Optic Cloak (2016), will be on display in Regent’s Park as part of the Frieze Sculpture Park, which takes place 6-9 October.