Steel and architecture : Cloud Gate

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The Cloud Gate, known as “The Bean”, is a sculpture designed by British Archistar Anish Kapoor. Built between 2004 and 2006, it is located in Chicago at the centre of the AT&T Plaza in Millennium Park. This enormous “bean”, capable of reflecting and distorting the city’s skyline and creating suggestive reflections that tourists from all over the world love to play with by taking unique photos, weighs almost 100 tons and is made up of 168 sheets of stainless steel – each 10 mm thick and weighing between 450 and 910 kg – welded together.

The structure

The surface of this large sculpture (10 m x 20 m x 13 m) inspired by liquid mercury has no visible welds and is completely smooth. The steel panels that make up the outer shell were fabricated using three-dimensional design software. Computers and robots were essential in the bending and shaping of the plates, which was carried out with the use of calenders and a robotic scanning device. Each weld underwent a five-stage process, necessary to produce the mirror effect typical of sculpture.

The realization of this work turned out to be more complicated than expected and during the construction phase some decisions were revised: if at first the company in charge thought to build and assemble the sculpture in Oakland, and then ship it to Chicago, the idea was then discarded and each single panel was transported from Oakland on trailers and assembled directly on site…

The name

Anish Kapoor, who called the nickname given to his work by the public “completely stupid”, chose to call it Cloud Gate because three quarters of the sculpture’s outer surface reflects the sky, making it, in Kapoor’s idea, a sort of bridge connecting the sky with the observer.

Kapoor’s contract states that the sculpture will survive for 1,000 years.