Aluminium masts for a 19-metre-high sculpture designed by the artist Patrick Heron were erected last weekend outside the new headquarters of the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) - where the Deputy PM works in his other guise as Environment Secretary - in central London.
Eighteen intensely coloured, irregularly shaped discs and spaghetti-like linear elements will be added in six layers over the next few weeks. The finished structure, entitled "Big Painting Sculpture" and illuminated by neon tubes, will be unveiled on 23 June, two days before the opening of Heron's retrospective show at the Tate Gallery.
The vibrant abstract sculpture is the result of a competition organised by the Public Art Commissions Agency on behalf of Land Securities, the property and development agency. It is an artistic and technical solution to reduce the jet stream that whips through the passageway alongside Eland House, home to the DETR. Land Securities refused to disclose how much the sculpture cost, only saying that the price was included in the pounds 3.5m the company has spent on "jazzing up the area".
Controlling the wind was not an alien concept to Heron or his son-in- law architect, Julian Feary, who collaborated on the project. Living, as he does, on a clifftop in Cornwall, wind-breaking devices have been of concern to Heron for the past 50 years. The challenge was to design a structure that would slow the wind down without itself being blown down, a process that extended to tests in a wind tunnel in Oxford. Feary was impressed by the Oxford engineers' "poetic response" to the project. "They referred to Patrick's shapes as clouds," he says.
Heron, who is 78, is keen to credit his son-in-law as "the genius behind all this", saying: "He's the one who realised the squiggles in solid form and made the discs float." Feary in turn believes that "Patrick did what only he could do as an artist and I did what I can do as an architect. While he's working with his Japanese watercolour brush on a piece of watercolour paper, it's my responsibility to take something that's maybe two or three centimetres high and make it five metres". The sculpture could not have been made two years ago, without the use of digital technology both in design and manufacturing, he added.
Among the colours selected by Heron for the discs were his favourites - lemon yellow, cobalt violet, cadmium red, ultramarine blue and cerulean blue - although he hastens to add: "All colour is madly exciting as far as I'm concerned." In order to match Heron's precise shades, the colours were mixed specially. The discs were made by Northshore Composites, a specialist supplier which manufactures yachts.
Ian Henderson, managing director of Land Securities, believes that the project will be a showcase for public and private sector co-operation. "It provides London with impressive art and a practical solution," he says. "The sculpture will change the face of Victoria, creatively complementing the surrounding buildings."
Heron himself is "very keen to respect the architectural realities of the place". "It would be quite easy to do something which is hostile to the architectural structures," he says, "but I fancy that the kind of squiggles and discs we're sliding into this space are going to be sympathetic."
A retrospective of Patrick Heron's work from the 1930s to the 1990s runs from 25 June to 6 September at the Tate Gallery, Millbank, London. For information call 0171-887 8000.Reuse content