London’s Olympic tower is “definitely art” says mayor
The spiralling ArcelorMittal Orbit may appear ungainly from a distance, but ascending the structure is an aesthetic experience
By Martin Bailey. Web only
Published online: 11 May 2012
The ArcelorMittal Orbit tower is “definitely an artwork”, according to London’s newly re-elected mayor Boris Johnson. While descending its vertigo-inducing spiral staircase, Johnson pointed out that the idea for the asymmetrical tower came from a sculptor, not an engineering company. Conceived by Anish Kapoor, along with the designer Cecil Balmond, the Orbit is due to open in July for the Olympics, with a capacity for 1 million visitors a year.
The 115-metre tower and viewing platform is already the UK’s tallest sculpture (and higher than New York’s Statue of Liberty). In height, it dwarfs the adjacent Olympic Stadium. Although the Orbit appears ungainly from a distance, entering and ascending its structure is indeed an aesthetic experience.
At ground level, visitors start by walking beneath an enormous bell-shaped weathered-steel canopy, which seems to taper into infinity—a Kapoor-style conceit based on darkness and stillness. A lift then whisks visitors upwards, passing through the labyrinthine latticed support. Entering the viewing platform, there are two large concave mirrors and then the skyline of the City, four miles away. The descent is on a suspended staircase, which orbits around the outside of the lift shaft, with constantly changing views of the twisting support structure (and with the Olympic site visible beneath the 455 perforated steps).
The Orbit has arrived just over three years after the idea of an Olympic tower was conceived in the cloakroom of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. It was there that Johnson spotted Lakshmi Mittal, who runs the world’s largest steel company, and the Indian tycoon later put £19.6m into the project (with £3.1m coming from the London Development Agency).
Kapoor quickly chose red paint for the 560 metres of tubular ArcelorMittal steel, initially considering a brighter colour, but ending up with a darker hue. He describes the Orbit as both art and architecture: “It’s experiential. Your body is fully involved. It’s all about being in the Orbit—a journey.”
Is he worried about how it will be received? Kapoor shrugs his shoulders, admitting the work is “unsettling” and pointing out that Parisians originally regarded the Eiffel Tower as ugly.
See our online picture gallery for more photos of the tower during the unveiling
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