In 2012, Cao and Perrot did a temporary installation called Cloud Terrace at Dumbarton Oaks, the research library and museum in Washington, D.C. On a paved terrace, the designers floated a free-form cloud comprising wire mesh and Swarovski crystals over a reflecting pool set in pebbles. Cloud Terrace, installed in gardens originally designed by Beatrix Farrand, was the third of the studio’s cloud installations; Bow Lake Cloud, planned for a site in Washington state, will use pieces of glass salved from a landfill, stainless steel mesh, and felt.
For the main city park in Grand Prairie, Texas, Cao and Perrot created Willow Tree, a permanent centerpiece made out of stainless steel and 80,000 handmade mother-of-pearl leaves. Cao was familiar with mother-of-pearl from Vietnam, where it’s often embedded in furniture. “The sound was one thing we didn’t expect,” he says of the finished installation, “a rustling sound, like a wind chime.”
The champagne maker Laurent-Perrier asked Cao | Perrot to create an installation called Aerial Garden for a garden festival in the Tuileries in Paris in 2009. Hoping to represent champagne bubbles visually, the studio fabricated a steel tree with a 35-foot span and a profusion of champagne-colored, mother-of-pearl leaves. Here the wire-mesh clouds are around the base of the piece, anchoring grasses and flowers.
The studio is adept at using manmade, often highly refined materials, to evoke natural forms, but with Pillow Field, Cao | Perrot sculpted the humblest natural material—earth—into an undulating, quilted field. The design team used compacted earth and thyme to create more than 200 land-pillows on a site located between mixed-income housing and the White Center, Wash., business district. The City of White Center was the client; Cao | Perrot Studio accepts commissions from public agencies as well as luxury brands like Kenzo.
Cao | Perrot created three “pollen gardens” in France for a nonprofit that promotes awareness of allergies. This, a temporary one at the potager du roi (king's kitchen garden) at Versailles, was planted with 17 species including wild wheats and poppies. Perrot loved working with the older wheat varieties, which grow tall and have different colors and textures from typical Big Ag stalks. “I’d never seen a field full of those plants. It’s fantastic, it’s beautiful,” he says.
At the Maladrerie Saint-Lazare, a 12th-century hospital for the treatment of leprosy in Beauvais, in northern France, Cao | Perrot designed Red Bowl, a temporary installation that hints at the suffering of former inhabitants. The balls of red glass allude to a medieval belief that lepers could be cured by bathing in blood, Perrot says. Visitors walk over a pond on burnt-wood ramps through a bowl formed of steel rods. “When the sun hits, you will see these little drops of blood,” Perrot says. “Also, the movement: It’s a windy site, and the whole installation will move, like wheat.”
At a ruined church in Beauvais, France, not far from the Red Bowl installation, the studio installed a companion piece called White Dome. It turns the bowl inside out and lifts it up; thousands of Swarovski crystals cascade in expanding rings.