Amazing Optical Illusion Makes 330 Pounds Of Marble Look Like Water

All that glimmers is not water.

In the Loire Valley in France, the 16th-century castle Domaine de Chaumont-sur-Loire, recently received a new addition to its verdant landscape. In a central courtyard, a long stretch of emerald green water glistens as its ripples catch the sunlight.


Enticing as the pool may look on a hot summer day, diving in headfirst would be ill-advised: the thing is made of 330 lbs of solid marble. The optical illusion is the work of French designer Mathieu Lehanneur, who created the site-specific sculpture as an homage to the nearby Loire river.

When Domaine’s Centre D’Arts et de Nature approached Lehanneur last year to make a piece for the festival, the organization suggested something related to plants or gardens–the castle hosts the world-renowned International Garden Festival— but he had another idea in mind. “The castle is beside the Loire but it is up very high, so even if the Loire is connected you sometimes forget it,” he says. “I wanted to remind the visitor that the castle was originally located here because the river is beside it and the garden can be hydrated easily.”

Petit Loire is the second in Lehanneur’s series Liquid Marble, the first of which debuted at Milan design week in 2013. He’s also the designer behind such whimsical projects as an atmospheric sculpture that forecasts the weather, a lamp that looks like sun breaking through clouds, and solar-powered street furniture made from France’s native wood.

After looking for months for marble that would match the color and impression of the river, Lehanneur found the perfect piece in a Guatemalan foundry. He took photos of the river and designed the shape of the marble using various types of 3-D software typically used to create the special effects of disaster movies. After he machine-cut the marble, Lehanneur sent the piece to marble workers in Portugal who polished it by hand.

The polish, he says, is crucial to the magic of making the heavy marble look cool, light, and liquid. It reflects the light so that “depending on the weather or position of sun in the sky, the perception of the piece is absolutely different,” he says. “Just like when the light glints off the sea.”

All Photos: Michel Giesbrecht


About the author

Meg Miller is an associate editor at Co.Design covering art, technology, and design.