The moon? What happened to it? Was it the Great Lunar Cataclysm? Nope that’s not due until August 2037. We have eighteen years before it breaks up alarmingly and dumps huge chunks of lunarscape upon the Earth. Well its not even that, that’s fiction as some of you will know. The moon in question is one that could once be found in London but its no longer here. (Well that’s not true either its still in London but more of that later.) Its the ‘moon sculpture’ that stood behind the Economist building in St. James Street, just off Piccadilly.
2037 – Somewhat eclipsed by our buildings – the moon breaking up and getting closer to Earth… You Tube
What intrigues me is the ‘crack’ in both the ‘real moon’ and the sculpture about to be discussed… anyway the sculpture itself is actually called Eclipse, it was created by Angela Conner and formed a centrepiece in a part of the Economist Square.
The location is now known as Smithson Plaza – this reflects the name of the designers responsible for the plans in the late 50s and early 60s. The entire development was completed in 1964. I was aware the buildings had been sold however what I did not know was the artwork itself had been uprooted as a result of that.
According to notes from University College London which were written in 2015 the sculpture itself was ‘sadly poorly maintained and is no longer operating at the time of writing.’ Source: UCL
It wasn’t really a well known sculpture by way of its being quite hidden round the back of the Economist Plaza but finding it was fascinating. The reason for this rather hidden location was probably because this was the only wall the sculpture could fit onto.
There’s little information on Conner’s sculpture and its perhaps explained by the fact it wasn’t one that could be easily found. It was also poorly maintained as the above quote shows, and it seems the sculpture was removed in about mid 2017. Conner herself has made other sculptures which can be found dotted around London and elsewhere. these include the Olivier statue outside the National Theatre. Here’s a full list of her sculptures.
The following two pictures are of the same location several years apart. The only reminder of the location is the pillar on the right and the angled wall on the left. The paving stones remain as they were, apart from having had some deep cleaning.
Eclipse – the full view.
Eclipse – the missing paradigm. March 2019.
I took a series of photographs a few years ago to show how the kinetic sculpture worked and some of these views are shown here. But first the labels… there was a small one at the bottom of the sculpture itself however another was put on the wall, much larger, so people could see what it was about.
The plaque explains the sculpture was in the memory of Lord Drogheda.
A bit on Lord Drogheda – From Hidden Treasures of London
There too was a warning label advising people not to touch (or even drink the water god forbid!) The label was because the water contained chemicals (chlorine possibly) to stop it getting algae or whatever.
The entire sculpture consisted of a waterfall in the background, this small shallow pool, and these two partially rotating discs in front. This pair of discs consists of a white moon and a black moon. The discs were on a camshaft or perhaps located on an off-centre axis which meant their rotation wasn’t a true circle.
As can be seen in this picture, the front disc is at rest (eg it is empty of water.) The feed above the disc fills the grooved section with water and once that happens the disc then tips sideways. The means of operation was the same for the rear disc.
In this view it can be seen the rear disc has fully rotated and is emptying the water it contained into the shallow pool. In terms of the front disc on its maximum rebound sometimes water could be seen pouring out the other side. The front disc could tip considerably the other way and had a total of about three quarters of a rotation.
Detail showing the water pouring off both front and rear discs.
The following You Tube video is the best one I have found showing the full work of this interesting kinetic sculpture.
The Economist Plaza was designed by Alison and Peter Smithson in the late 1950s using a combination of towers and elevated squares. It was a very unusual mix yet was intended as brutalist. The Smithsons had originally been architects for the London County Council before setting up their own practice in 1950. They were renown for noted projects such as Smithdon High School in Hunstanton and the controversial Robin Hood Gardens in East London. The Economist Plaza is perhaps their best work.
The Plaza, despite all its faults, was awarded Grade II* status in the late 1980s, abecoming one of the first post-war buildings to be bestowed this honour. The Economist (the famous magazine) itself remained resident here until 2017 when it moved to a new home near the Strand.
Despite the brutalist styling of the Economist Plaza, Alison and Peter Smithson’s architectural influence has spread. The new look Green Park tube station entrance of 2011 in fact takes a leaf out of the Smithsons’ book and uses the same Portland stone. Its in fact known as Portland Roach, a somewhat different quality to the general and more widely known Portland stone, even though both come from the same quarries in Dorset. Roach has fossilised remains of marine life which makes it very attractive, however it was once thought an ugly stone and used only for foundations, piers, essentially places where it would be out of sight.
Green Park station walls and structure are covered in Portland Roach featuring many examples of real and engraved examples of fossils.
As for ‘Eclipse’ itself, the reason for the removal of Conner’s kinetic sculpture was it had developed faults and needed a lot of work to restore – so was not seen as having a role in the newly reinvigorated development.
I had a email form Anglea Conner herself and she explained about Eclipse:
Eclipse was removed due to a change of use for that building site. It is still available. The sculpture is currently carefully stored so cannot be seen working, but we have a video of it in motion, on site.
Its still in London apparently in store at the sculptor’s home according to her website – awaiting a new buyer or the possibility of a new home.
If you have an interest in it – perhaps buying it for a possible new location of merit, please visit Angela Conner’s website for details.
Why the moon? I always called it the moon because that is what it seemed like to me. Its probably just my dodgy brain’s interpretation of things but this is how I saw it. ‘And everything under the sun is in tune. But the sun is eclipsed by the moon.’ And that, to me, is what it was all about.