Troika's shimmering Cloud lifts the spirits of weary travelers at London Heathrow airport
Tim McKeough -- Interior Design, 5/1/2008 12:00:00 AM
Every seasoned air traveler has seen electromagnetic flip-dots, once used to form letters and numbers on departures and arrivals boards. But travelers passing through Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners's new Terminal 5 at London Heathrow airport haven't seen the small disks arranged quite like this before. Hovering between two escalators in the atrium entrance to the British Airways first- and club-class lounges is a 16-foot-long capsule covered in 4,638 of the dots. As their faces of black plastic or aluminum foil flip back and forth, they create continuously morphing patterns that ripple across the capsule's curved surface.
Named Cloud, the shimmering kinetic sculpture signals a departure from the hassles of check-in at an airport long plagued with delays and, more specifically, a terminal that notoriously descended into chaos on opening day, when the entire baggage system crashed. “It's a transition from the ground level up to the more serene lounges—a metaphor for a plane's takeoff, traveling through a layer of clouds to reach calm skies above,” explains Eva Rucki, founding partner of the art and design studio Troika.
Led by Rucki, Conny Freyer, and Sebastien Noel, Troika is known for pushing existing technology to surprising new ends, and Cloud is no exception. Because flip-dots are normally slow-moving objects, Troika rewrote the software that controls them to make them flip at faster speeds. Also, flip-dots were designed to be installed only vertically, so the firm had a sleeve bearing added to allow them to function at all kinds of angles.
The piece was made by Mike Smith Studio, an art-fabrication facility that's worked with Damien Hirst and Rachel Whiteread. To build Cloud's shell, composed of two identical halves, the studio laser-cut more than 300 aluminum strips, then welded them to an aluminum skeleton ready to be fitted with the necessary electronics and circuitry. After nine weeks of production, the result weighed 1,700 pounds.
To truck it securely to the site, Cloud was housed in a steel cradle, its arms directly supporting the sculpture's internal structure. (The flip-dots couldn't be touched.) At Terminal 5, two winches hoisted the piece 40 feet. It's held in place at either end by a tensile-steel cable connected to an aluminum plate that's clamped to the building's steel beams—the cables are different lengths to compensate for the beams' slightly different heights. A ballast centered inside Cloud keeps it from swaying.
Animating its two-tone skin are 10 alternating patterns. Some repeat the shape of Cloud itself. Others are inspired by soaring birds, ocean waves, or schools of fish, transporting travelers to far-off imaginary destinations via technological magic.