By Conrad Shawcross
A fusion of art, architecture and technology
There’s art everywhere on Greenwich Peninsula, and as we emerge as a new swathe of London, we’re collaborating with pioneering artists, designers and architects to embed visionary work into the fabric of this neighbourhood.
The latest piece we have commissioned is The Optic Cloak by Conrad Shawcross. Overlooking the Blackwall Tunnel Approach and marking the gateway to the Peninsula, it envelopes the future low carbon energy centre that will power the 15,000 new homes on the Peninsula.
At 49 meters tall, 20 metres wide and 3 meters deep, the flue is a landmark to people of the Peninsula and beyond, delighting newcomers and surprising regular commuters as its surface shifts and changes appearance depending on the light and time of day.
As The Optic Cloak is unveiled at the Peninsula’s Energy Centre, Shawcross joins the burgeoning collection of artists whose iconic work is not only shaping this nascent part of London but drawing people to it.
The idea behind The Optic Cloak
Shawcross’s previous works blend engineering with philosophy, art with architecture, and industrialism with nature. Past pieces have seen him investigating the human nervous system, our perception of time, and the way we engage with machines. By his own admission he is fascinated and inspired by the worlds of science and mathematics as much as art, making him the ideal artist to take on the form of a functional energy centre.
Shawcross was selected from a shortlist of three artists by the team at Greenwich Peninsula and place-making consultancy, Futurecity. Once lead architects CF Møller Architects had designed the Energy Centre he then collaborated with them to re-model the original steel framework proposed for the outside of the flues.
His idea was to transform the original design of the Energy Centre’s flue from a heavy, traditional frame into a lightweight structure, all the while creating something beautiful. Not only does the new design significantly reduce the frame’s weight by 40%, the moiré effect creates transparency.
“An early promise I made to myself was that whatever I did, I would make this a lot lighter than it was at the outset. So I could say, hand on heart, that this is a more environmentally considered approach than when we started,” says Shawcross.
The theory behind The Optic Cloak
“One of the paradoxes about [camouflage] is that on one level it’s very arresting, while on another it disappears. It has this contradictory effect like a parrot in a jungle. It’s very successful at hiding itself and yet it looks like the most obvious thing in the jungle.” – Conrad Shawcross
Typical of Shawcross’ work, the idea behind The Optic Cloak was influenced by unexpected references: dazzle camo from first world war ships, artist Bomberg’s cubism, optical illusions and moiré.
The most fundamental to the design of The Optic Cloak is the moiré effect. A French word that describes a piece of textile with a rippled or “watered” appearance, it’s created by layering patterns at difference angels, resulting in a dynamic surface that always changes.
In the case of The Optic Cloak, aluminum panels are overlapped at different angels, creating a surface that shimmers but is disrupted as you move past it.
“When the light is on the same side as you when you come round, it starts to shimmer and gets this optic, disruptive surface, hence the name The Optic Cloak” he says.
Making and building
Creating The Optic Cloak
The dynamism of The Optic Cloak is because of its architecture. The primary frame is made up of diagonal and vertical pillars, while the secondary frame is a series of perforated panels, made up of punched aluminium.
There are hundreds of panels, which all break down into thousands of sub-panels. Each panel is shaped like a triangle, lifted and bolted into the primary frame, creating the optical effect of water-like movement.
The flue is made of steel which is clad with perforated panels made of aluminium, all made and built by companies in the UK: Winchester-based Lakesmere, Sotech Ltd who made the perforated alumiuim shields, and the Metal Surgery based in Cornwall who manufactured the cladding subframe. Billington Steelworks in Barnsley fabricated, galvanised and erected the flue tower primary steel work.
The energy centre
The largest new build residential heat network in Europe
The Optic Cloak is the flue for the Peninsula’s low carbon Energy Centre. As part of our commitment to sustainability, the Energy Centre is the largest new build residential heat network in Europe, saving 15,000 – 20,000 tonnes of carbon every year.
Heat energy will be distributed via a district heating network from the Energy Centre to each plot across the Peninsula’s 150 acres.
It uses pioneering technology relating to network temperatures, and will house advanced boilers and combined heat and power that will provide heat energy to the businesses and 15,000 future homes on the Peninsula.
The Energy Centre is currently one of the most significant district heating schemes in the UK, underpinned by an independent governing body that looks after our residents’ interests. It will also include a new Visitor Centre that will show the surrounding neighborhoods how district heating operates and its benefits to the wider community.