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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

Mayor of London Boris Johnson stands at the top of the ArcelorMittal Orbit in the Olympic Park, London during the press preview and unveiling 11 May 2012. At 114.5 metres high it is the UK's tallest sculpture

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

Reflections of visitors are seen in distorted mirrors inside at the ArcelorMittal Orbit
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13 Aug 12
14:52 CET


So Much Inspiration.. Almost Alive!

19 Jun 12
15:10 CET


It is a waste or red paint !

4 Jun 12
15:52 CET


Mr Kapoor did excellent job. I wish the tower was a lot bigger and highier, it would exposed the fullness of artist's potential. I belive the artist soon will create something that represents his highest capability

29 May 12
14:49 CET


Interesting that this review does not show a photo of the Orbit. It is visually ugly. Such a shame to waste that kind of money on that pile of rubbish. It isn't even 'controversial', it's just bad taste.

16 May 12
14:28 CET


Art is interpreted differently by each individual, however, one thing that stays in common is the fact that one 'experiences' something upon seeing an artwork - a feeling or a thought. In this case, the viewer is encouraged to experience the artwork as a whole, and be a part of it. It is an imagination converted into something tangible along with a result of associated intangibles—it is "definitely art".

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