Across the UK this week, architecture meets art head on. Public spaces are becoming canvases designed to shock, impress or contradict their surroundings, whether by ruefully reflecting them back at themselves or boldly reimagining how they may look in the future.

A racing car is designed with singularity of purpose: to complete a set number of laps and within a set of technical rules in the fastest time possible. But, emotionally, it’s so much more. Its focused design carries the hopes and fantasies of more than just the driver sat in its snug, spartan cockpit. Racing cars are inspiring, and the Goodwood Festival of Speed exists to celebrate that fact and place thoroughbred racers and slinky sports cars on a pedestal of almost religious worship. And, just as a cathedral has a tower so as to be seen from a distance, Goodwood has an automotive sculpture to draw followers in, and act as its festival centerpiece.

Each year, Goodwood has a featured marque; a car maker which inspires disciples, maybe because of its style, or success on the track, often both. In 2012, the featured marque is Lotus. It is fitting that this most British of automotive icons is toasted at this most British of garden parties, six decades in and with its foot on the gas.

Artist and designer Gerry Judah has been commissioned by Group Lotus to create a bold centerpiece that captures the essence of Lotus from its beginnings to the present. A 3-D infinity loop, 28 metres high, it resembles the grandest, most ambitious Scalextric track ever imagined. The winding curves represent Lotus’s natural environment; cars that are built for cornering. It’s a monocoque structure, an engineering approach first applied to racing cars and refined by Lotus. “The monocoque structure, which is made of steel plates and joined together to create the loop, is meant to highlight the engineering DNA of Lotus,” confirms Judah. “It’s a lightweight engineering construction and I think its form shows the Lotus psychology and culture.”

The sculpture is a race track, and sat on its surfaces are six very significant Lotus cars. Not scale models: full-size, genuine, actually-been-raced examples from Lotus’s longstanding motorsport campaign. There’s a green-and-yellow Type 32B, the car in which Jim Clark won the 1965 Tasman Series in Australia and New Zealand. Then there’s the red-and-white Type 49, in which Graham Hill raced to the crown. Next is the JPS-liveried Type 72, in which Emerson Fittipaldi became the sport’s youngest champion. Then the black-and-gold ’79, the ultimate ground-effect car now high in the air, and responsible for Mario Andretti’s world title. A bolt of yellow in the shape of the Lotus 99T next, the last Lotus driven by Ayrton Senna. And, finally, we have the current Lotus grand prix car as driven by Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean.

Rich history there, some immortal legends, and some pretty valuable metal and carbon fibre too. Is it safe to lynch them nearly 10 storeys? “Well, we haven’t erected it yet,” laughs Judah, a little nervously. But he needn’t be, because he’s been here many times before. “We put the Bluebird up in the air, and a Supermarine plane that had been sat in a museum for 70 years”. Judah has now built 15 sculptures for Goodwood, so he knows what he’s doing. “Many years ago Charles March [the owner of Goodwood House and the organizer of the Festival of Speed] was a commercial photographer, and back in the 1980s I used to build sets for him. Having not seen him for about 15 years or so, he called me up in 1997 and asked me to build something for him: a triumphal arch with a Ferrari hanging underneath. Despite terrible rain and winds to endure when we put it up, it was great fun and a few months later he asked if I wanted to do another.”

Judah worked closely with Lord March and Lotus to determine the design. “I came up with a few concepts and then we had a dialogue. A great piece of art doesn’t just come from the artist, it needs to come from the client too and along with Charles March, Lotus’ head of marketing, Tommaso Volpe, really had that vision.”

Cars have always been a passion of Judah’s. “I’ve always admired Lotus since I was a boy. They’re such British cars, with that ideology of clever, forward thinking science and engineering. That was something I knew I needed to embrace. It’s almost unconscious how I approach sculpture. I don’t do brands. None of the sculptures I’ve done for Goodwood have spoken about the brand, you can get an advertising agency to do that. I do something more intuitive. It is, dare I say it, more a spiritual journey in design.”

Speaking of spiritual journeys, he says inspiration for his work can be traced to India, where he was born. His mother was from Calcutta, his father from Rangoon, and Gerry was raised in West Bengal till the age of ten when the family emigrated to London. “The landscape, the awesomeness of the huge temples and mosques, the rituals, the architecture… everything had a sense of grandeur. Not necessarily scale, but grandeur of spirit.”

Before turning his attention to public sculpture, painting and fine art, Gerry had made a name for himself in theatrical, movie and television set design, establishing a studio on Shaftesbury Avenue after graduating Goldsmiths College and the Slade School of Fine Art. The dramatic elements to his work are clear, and this has been embraced not just by marques such as Porsche, Audi and Jaguar but by companies such as the Royal National Theatre, English National Opera, Royal Shakespeare Company, BBC and Michael Jackson, Paul McCartney, The Who and Led Zeppelin to create the most impressive rock shows. And there has been darker subject matter, none more serious and introspective than a large model depicting Auschwitz at the Holocaust Exhibition and his CRUSADER for the Imperial War Museum in London and Manchester.

Working with the Lotus models up on the huge 3-D loop, and with Clive Chapman – the owner of the five classic F1 models – has been important in order to convey Lotus’s integrity. “Everything up there is original,” says Judah, “because that’s the whole idea of Goodwood. These are the original racers and they project that spirit of not just the Festival of Speed but of the history of motorsport, to which Lotus has been such a significant contributor. We could have stuck the cars up on podiums as you might in a museum, but that wouldn’t give the cars the salute they deserve. You need some element of danger and panache, as exhibited when they’re racing on the track.” The cars are held in place by their wheels, which sit in specially designed cups and are strapped to them tightly. “We treat each car very delicately,” he assured Clive, who Gerry says is “participating in this as a tribute to his father’s life’s work.”

The sculpture comes in 11 major sections, which will be delivered from Littlehampton Welding, where they’re fabricated, to Goodwood 22 miles away by individual articulated lorries and a police escort.

After the Festival, the sculpture will be dismantled and the plan is to bring it to Lotus’s Norfolk headquarters. Minus the cars, which must be returned to Clive Chapman’s Classic Team Lotus workshop and to the Lotus F1 Team, the sculpture has a plot reserved next to the Hethel test track, where the elderly racers first turned their wheels.

It will look out across the circuit to where Lotus’ current and future models are track tested around another loop, and like the infinity sculpture there’s no end in sight. Lotus’s history is always growing, and this is what Gerry Judah’s handsome sculpture is designed to represent.