London - A few Sunday mornings ago I was having my morning cup of coffee and reading the New York Times Weekend Edition. I distinctly recall the cover, a large image of the recently unveiled public sculpture/ observation tower ArcelorMittal Orbit by famous Turner-Prize winning artist Anish Kapoor and architect Cecil Balmond. I had previously seen news reports on its in-progress construction, but it wasn’t until this particular Sunday morning that I saw the fully completed project.
The twisting red steel tower is now the tallest public sculpture in the UK, measuring 377 feet in height and consisting of 35 storeys. It is situated between the Olympic Stadium and the Aquatics Center, giving views overlooking the entire Olympic Park from its observation decks. It will be open to visitors of the Olympic Games and Olympic Park in July, and promises panoramic views of up to 20 miles outward of London’s skylines. But, this panoramic view does not come cheap: at an absurdly steep admission price of £15 for adults, and £7 for children, visitors can experience the post-apocalyptic structure that is Orbit, Anish Kapoor himself admitted the price was "a hell of a lot of money". Regardless of whether you decide to trek up the 455 steps on Orbit, the tower's obnoxious scale means that even a good distance, you can still see and experience it.
At the beginning of May the completed structure was unveiled to the public and media and immediately was met with mixed reviews. Some critics have praised Kapoor for his unconventional design, while others have scrutinized its merit as a long-lasting public artwork describing it as “a catastrophic collision between two cranes”. My favorite description of Orbit was one critic likening it to “the Eiffel Tower after a nuclear attack”. Personally, I see merit in what Kapoor was attempting achieve with his design for Orbit. He wanted to create a deconstructed structure with a bold design that would leave a long-lasting impression on the public. Undeniably, its appearance is intriguing; the way in which the red steel interweaves itself with the silver spiral staircase is playful, yet its asymmetry also gives fragility to the steel. However, its functionality as a long-term public art project is questionable. Though it looks “cool” its still rather obnoxious considering how it looms over the Olympic Stadium. Additionally, its heavy weight and massive height is not visually in sync with the smaller, lightweight constructions in the Olympic Park.
Now consider the cost of $23 million pounds of building the Olympic sculpture. Britain’s richest man, tycoon and Chairman of the ArcelorMittal steel company, Lakshmi Mittal, funded $16 million pounds. The remaining $3.1 million pounds came from the London Agency Development. Though most of Orbit’s funding was predominantly private, it seems absurd that such a large amount of money would be spent on such a sculpture that’s function, aesthetic design are questionable. Additionally, the current economic turmoil of the euro-zone debt crisis in the UK and Europe make this project seem exceptionally frivolous. However, London hopes that the structure- regardless, of opinion- will leave an enduring memory of London’s hosting of the 2012 Summer Olympics, while simultaneously aiding the regrowth of the Stratford area. London officials hope it will help attract one million visitors a year to Stratford Olympic Park (known as Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park).
Kapoor and Balmond believe Orbit marks a radical advancement in the architectural field, by ingeniously combining sculpture with structural engineering. The sculptural work alongside the architectural element of the spiraling staircase, allows viewers to not only visually engage but also physically experience the structure on their ascent to the top observation deck. Recently, Kapoor said to BBC press that Orbit won’t please everyone, but perhaps in the future will come to be revered like the Eiffel Tower. At this point in time, it is hard to definitively say what the long-term effect Orbit will have in the coming years. I have half a mind to say that in fifty years people will not want to be looking at the oversized post-apocalyptic structure, but only time will tell.
Archi & Design - Architecture
by Sara West | Wednesday, 25 July 2012