“I was looking at Bomberg and how to create these grids and disrupt a surface. Then came my initial idea of creating folded panels over the surface; a panel system that would go over the surface of the building, make it disappear yet more arresting.”
Realising that the tower was uniquely placed on the Peninsula, Shawcross then looked to fully take advantage of the fact the sun essentially rises facing one side of it and sets facing the other.
“The sun will face one side of it in the morning and the other in the evening, so I was looking at this idea that the back and the front could be opened up [by the sun], making it transparent. I was looking at things like the moiré effect.”
Moiré is the resulting pattern seen when two geometrically regular patterns (as two sets of parallel lines or, as in The Optic Cloak’s case, two panels covered in holes) are superimposed especially at an acute angle. The effect is of a shimmering nature, reminiscent of intense heat seen distorting the air in a desert or rising off an asphalt road.
The brilliance of The Optic Cloak is that though it can be seen from a great distance (from the clippers travelling up and down the river or from the top of Greenwich Park) the closer you get to it the lighter and more elegant it looks. Shawcross’s engineering and experimentation have come together to create a striking work of art. “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. But Shawcross is modest, because it does so much more than that.
At dawn it gradually reveals itself, throwing off the shadows of night to reflect and refract the sun slicing across the pleated panels. At sunset, the structure shimmies and glows, almost alight with the last licks of daylight.
It’s as if The Optic Cloak itself is brimming with an energy all its own, a beautiful metaphor for the very thing it’s meant to be cloaking.