Quantum Cloud – London, England - Atlas Obscura

Quantum Cloud

Sculptor Antony Gormley used chaos theory and fractal growth to design his tallest creation.  


British sculptor Antony Gormley’s “Quantum Cloud” stands on a cast iron platform next to the O2 Arena in London’s River Thames. Completed in 1999, it was built from a collection of steel tetrahedral units that together form a “cloud” with a human figure at its heart. The idea behind the creation is to convey how the presence of a person can be even greater than their actual appearance. 

The towering sculpture, which at 98 feet is Gormley’s tallest, shows a human figure surrounded by—and connected to—a seemingly chaotic cloud that appears to vibrate with energy. To help with the design and structure of the sculpture, Gormley turned to the Elliott Wood Partnership, a London-based structural and civil engineering practice, and the LUSAS consultancy, specialists in engineering analysis and design software. Together, they came up with all the technical wizardry that went into the creation of the Quantum Cloud.

On the software side of things, LUSAS first made laser scans of Gormley’s body. This provided the raw data to define the 3D boundary of the body form that would appear at the heart of the cloud. They also had to calculate the size of the body, as it would require a large enough footprint to help the entire sculpture resist the force of the prevailing winds.

The software engineers then used chaos theory and fractal growth techniques to create the outer tendrils that would represent the cloud structure. These were “grown” from the core, extending out in a series of up to five organic expansions.

Once LUSAS had finished with its complex design process, someone then had to build the thing. This is where Elliott Wood Partnership came in. It was up to them to find a structural solution that would actually support the design of the Quantum Cloud. To achieve the correct look while also maintaining stability, they designed a structure of 325 interconnected distorted tetrahedral units.

In total, the sculpture was created using 3,600 square hollow sections of galvanized steel. These were welded together in what appears to be random form, but actually following the computer-generated design, to create the ellipsoidal cloud. The density of the steel sections was increased in the core to form the human figure at the heart of the sculpture.

Know Before You Go

The Quantum Cloud sits on a platform in the River Thames, between the Air Line pylon and North Greenwich Pier, just to the east of the O2 Arena (Millennium Dome), on the Greenwich Peninsula in southeast London

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