AAJ Press
Architecture & Design, Art & Public Space, Art Projects, Sculpture

ArcelorMittal Orbit. Anish Kapoor and Cecil Balmond. Olympic Park, London 2012

“Despite the fact that it is sculpture it is a structure. Before it is a structure it is a sculpture”. Situated between the Olympic Stadium and Zaha Hadid’s Aquatics Centre the ArcelorMittal Orbit (AM Orbit), is an iconic hybrid – sculpture, building and public viewing platform – designed by Anish Kapoor and Cecil Balmond for the Olympic and Paralympic Park and London 2012 Games, reached its full height of 114.5 metres on 28 October 2011. This marks the completion of the main steelwork before the opening in May 2012 with the addition of a landscaped plaza and feature lighting. Now standing as UK’s tallest sculpture – Antony Gormley’s Angel of the North is 22-metres high with a 54-metre wingspan, and the Eiffel Tower is 300-metres high.

AM Orbit is part science-fiction architecture: “Seen nearer, the Thing was incredibly strange, for it was no mere insensate machine driving on its way. Machine it was, with a ringing metallic pace, and long, flexible, glittering tentacles (one of which gripped a young pine-tree) swinging and rattling about its strange body. It picked its road as it went striding along, and the brazen hood that surmounted it moved to and fro with the inevitable suggestion of a head looking about. Behind the main body was a huge mass of white metal like a gigantic fisherman’s basket, and puffs of green smoke squirted out from the joints of the limbs as the monster swept by me. And in an instant it was gone.” H.G. Wells. The War of the Worlds, Book 1, Chapter 10. And part architectural fantasy in the spirit of Tatlin’s Tower, Vladimir Tatlin’s unrealised monument for Petrograd and the Third International in 1920, whose original 400-metre high double-helix frame, an internal structure of a cube, pyramid and cylinder, revolved annually, monthly and daily – with a newspaper housed in the  ‘daily’ cylinder.

AM Orbit is an archisculpture, consisting of a sculptural Ruby Red (Ref: RAL 3003) painted frame of a continuous looping lattice, constructed using 2,000 tonnes of steel, based on the geometry of a six pointed star, with architectural elements of lifts, stainless-steel spiral staircase and a two storey-viewing platform incorporating a café. From the top levels visitors will be able to look down through a central rectangular void or annulus. There are two additional sculptural elements by Kapoor: A canopy at the base has a concave floor with a view through a funnel from dark to light through the annulus. On the top level of the viewing platform two concave mirrors placed on the external walkway invert the horizon.

“I wanted the sensation of instability, something that was continually in movement. Traditionally a tower is pyramidal in structure, but we have done quite the opposite, we have a flowing, coiling form that changes as you walk around it. … It is an object that cannot be perceived as having a singular image, from any one perspective. You need to journey round the object, and through it. Like a Tower of Babel, it requires real participation from the public” — Anish Kapoor

Anish Kapoor and Cecil Balmond won the competition to design a sculptural tower for the London 2012 Olympics competing in a limited competition with Antony Gormley and Caruso St.John Architects. In a major artistic collaboration Arup’s engineers and technical experts worked with Kathryn Findlay and Ushida Findlay Architects who completed the design and integration of the architectural elements of the sculpture. The steel company ArcelorMittal have funded up to £19.6 million of the £22.7 million cost of the ArcelorMittal Orbit, with additional £3.1 million provided by the Greater London Authority.

The views from ArcelorMittal Orbit encompass the Olympic Park and London’s skyline with sightlines towards the Gherkin, Shard and Canary Wharf Tower – and up to 20 miles of London’s orbital hinterland. After London2012 the sculpture will open to the public in 2014 aiming to attract 5,000 visitors per day, and one million visitors and £10 million of revenue per annum. It is anticipated that circa £2 million per annum will be distributed back into the post-Olympiad Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and the new communities of Chobham Manor, East Wick, Sweetwater, Marshgate Wharf and Pudding Mill. Managed by the Olympic Park Legacy Company it will have a ticketed entry system hosting 300 visitors at a time, who will travel up the structure in two 20-person lifts then encouraged to walk down the 455 steps of the spiral staircase.





About jeh

Jeremy Hunt is Director of the AAJ Press (Art & Architecture Journal / Press) – a writer and consultant on art and public space


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