Cloud Gate – a polished stainless steel sculpture inspired by a drop of mercury taking centre stage in the city

Richard-Storer Adam takes us on a visit to marvel at British artist Anish Kapoor’s mesmerising bean- shaped mirrored stainless steel installation in the AT&T Plaza, Millennium Park in Chicago, Illinois.

Richard Storer-Adam is Managing Director of Double Stone Steel


Cloud Gate, also known locally as “The Bean”, is by the fashionable and brilliant Indian born British artist Sir Anish Kapoor. Kapoor was knighted in the 2013 Queen’s, Birthday Honours list for services to the visual arts. He was born on March 12, 1954 in Mumbai, India. Kapoor won the Turner prize in 1991 for this an untitled piece in Sandstone and Pigment. Cloud Gate was Kapoor’s first public sculpture in the USA. Kapoor has lived and worked in London since the 1970’s

My personal favourite piece of his Cloud Gate which is the centrepiece of AT&T Plaza at the Millennium Park in Chicago Illinois. The piece was inspired by a drop of mercury and is just such a beautiful, startling thing.

Cloud Gate’s surface reflects and distorts the Chicago’s skyline. Visitors are able to walk around and under Cloud Gate’s 3.7 meter high arch. On the underside is the Omphalos, which is Greek for Navel or Boss. This word is how the Greek’s described the centre of the world, it was a powerful religious symbol to them, describing a stone at the centre of the world, there a several of these stones throughout the Mediterranean. All the Omphalas are marking the centre of the world, usually the Omphalas were erected in the place with the most trade and money at the time. The Omphalos stones are also referred to as baetylus which means sacred stone, these stones were usually dedicated to a God.

The Omphalos is a concave chamber that warps and multiplies reflections. The sculpture builds upon many of Kapoor’s artistic themes and is very popular with tourists as a photo-taking opportunity for its unique reflective properties. The sculpture plays with light and changes constantly, minute to minute. If the sun is hitting the stainless steel directly you cant look at it with open eys, if a white fluffy cloud passes over head, you see a distorted image of the cloud, other worldly, strange not belonging to us but recognisable.

The sculpture Cloud Gate by Anish Kapoor showing the reflected skyline of Chicago in its apparently seamless polished stainless steel surface.

The sculpture Cloud Gate by Anish Kapoor showing the reflected skyline of Chicago in its apparently seamless polished stainless steel surface.

The light changes through out the day and the Cloud Gates changes with it, the sculpture can be bright and beautiful on a spring day or brooding and sullen, sitting sulking on a cloudy afternoon. I was lucky to be there on a stormy, black night, watching another reality’s lighting storm taking place in what looked like a view portal into another place. It is something I will never forget a beautiful experience.

The reflections in the mirrored stainless steel surface of the Cloud Gate sculpture, Chicago by Anish Kapoor, dramatically illuminated at night.

The reflections in the mirrored stainless steel surface of the Cloud Gate sculpture, Chicago by Anish Kapoor, dramatically illuminated at night.

Temperature affects the piece dramatically, in the summer it can be far too hot to touch and in winter far too cold to touch without sticking to the thing.

Cloud Gate was constructed by Performance Structures, Inc. (PSI) based in California with final on site assembly by Chicago based MTH industries, between 2004 and 2006, the sculpture is made up of 168, 10mm thick plates welded of 316 stainless steel and its highly polished exterior has no visible seams. It measures 10 metre by 20 metre by 13 m metre), and weighs 100 tons. The sculpture has been polished by very skilled hands. The polishing alone is a stunning technical achievement, really stunning. When you run your fingers over the surface, there is nothing to feel other than the perfect surface, no ripples, bumps, dents, or dings.

The stainless steel surface of Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate sculpture covered in ice in freezing Chicago temperatures.

The stainless steel surface of Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate sculpture covered in ice in freezing Chicago temperatures.

The British engineering firm Atelier One and the freelance engineer Chris Hornzee-Jones (who later went on to form the engineering firm Aerotrope in 2005 which would focus on Air Turbines, Low Carbon Vehicles and Art Pieces, provided the sculpture’s structural design, this was a difficult object to design and the elegant solution found by Mr Hornzee-Jones is just beautiful.

Costs were difficult, the original estimate were were around 6 million USD. The final figure was closer to 21 million USD. No public money was spent, the entire project was funded from donations.

“What I wanted to do in Millennium Park is make something that would engage the Chicago skyline … so that one will see the clouds kind of floating in, with those very tall buildings reflected in the work. And then, since it is in the form of a gate, the participant, the viewer, will be able to enter into this very deep chamber that does, in a way, the same thing to one’s reflection as the exterior of the piece is doing to the reflection of the city around.”
– Anish Kapoor, Cloud Gate sculptor