The squat, round hut known as the Cloud Chamber for the Trees and Sky may look like an enchanted hobbit home, but it is in fact the work of British artist Chris Drury who built the structure as a rustic camera obscura.
Located on the largest museum campus in the United States behind the North Carolina Museum of Art, the Cloud Chamber is a unique work that mixes fairy tale design with medieval technology to create one of the most unique spaces in the world. The low-lying hut is made of large, dry stone blocks in the shape of a rocky igloo with a lush, green turf sitting on top. There is a single wooden door leading into the chamber which becomes light-tight when the door is closed. The only illumination in the 14-foot diameter room comes from a small hole in the roof of the chamber which acts as a camera obscura, a medieval optics trick that ends up projecting a mirror image of the area on the lit side of the camera. Thus the interior of the cloud chamber has trees, clouds, and blue sky projected across the white cement walls.
The Cloud Chamber ultimately allows visitors to virtually walk among the clouds and the treetops using a technology that requires nothing but sunshine.
Update as of January 2020: Temporarily closed for renovations.
Know Before You Go
The chamber is located in the NCMA's Ann and Jim Goodnight Museum Park. After parking in the nearby lot, take the trail down into the field, cross the stream and continue on up into the woods to this small wood and stone dome. If you're lost, just take a look at one of the maps posted (#25 on paper maps or #22 on the park signs]Once inside the chamber, allow a few minutes for your eyes to adjust. A cone of light, let in from a pinhole compression ring at the pinnacle of the dome, projects an image into the space from directly overhead in this cool, damp and otherwise completely pitch-black chamber.