The Curious Case of the ArcelorMittal Orbit

Photo looking up the ARcelorMittal Orbit in London at a steep angle
Spiraling upward view of £22 million steel un-tower, the ArcelorMittal Orbit in London.
photo by The Telegraph, click for link to their site

LONDON, 11 May — 26 months after being awarded the landmark 2012 Olympic commission, sculptor Anish Kapoor and structural designer Cecil Balmond have today opened their monumental steel tower, the ArcelorMittal Orbit. A surprisingly abject work the tower opulently celebrates its refusal to be a triumphal tower. The structure feels like Kapoor, it feels like Olympic confidence and arrogance, yet it resists easy integration into the visual plan of city, skyline, or Olympic park.

The ArcelorMittal Orbit is a tower and not a tower. It is a statement of power and the refusal to acknowledge power. Like Paul McCarthy having fun with catsup, Kapoor and Balmond have had fun bringing to fruition a sort of Emperor’s New Clothes of triumphal architecture that some will love, some will love to hate, and many will accept that they are supposed to love without actually knowing why. Whereas the Eiffel Tower was a temporary design that became permanent, the Orbit is a permanent design that feels temporary.

Twilight image of the ArcelorMittal Orbit and skyline
ArcelorMIttal Orbit at dusk
image courtesy of Arcelor Mittal, click image for their website

Existing on more levels, scales, and frames of embodiment than most structures, the ArcelorMittal Orbit is experienced differently depending on your point of view. In wide vistas it most resembles an Olympic Wrestling match in its frustrating struggle to gain advantage over the horizon. In close view, it becomes more like Olympic Platform Diving in the majesty and power of the endless red steel that is at once structural and decorative. Finally, actually being inside the ArcelorMittal Orbit at Friday’s press launch, it is like that darling of the Summer Games, Gymnastics, where we are constantly and viscerally vaulted and tumbled to new, inconceivable vistas of spectacle, hubris, unbridled confidence, and unexpected majesty.



R E L A T E D . M A T E R I A L S

• Boris Johnson, The Telegraph: The statist, defeatist and biased BBC is on the wrong wavelength

• Charlotte Higgins, The Guardian: Orbit towers over debate on purpose of public art

• Jill Lawless, Associated Press: Eiffel or eyesore? London’s Orbit tower completed

Boris Johnson, Tessa Jowell, Lakshmi Mittal, Anish Kapoor with model of ArcelorMittal Orbit
26 months ago: London mayor Boris Johnson, Olympics minister Tessa Jowell, Arcelor Mittal CEO Lakshmi Mittal and artist Anish Kapoor with a model of the ArcelorMittal Orbit. Photograph: Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP

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5 thoughts on “The Curious Case of the ArcelorMittal Orbit

  1. I’ve been in the London Eye Wheel once and a copy of that wheel, made by my partner, can be viewed in the Science Museum in London. Who knows he will build this one too as a copy for someone interested to give it eternal life 😀

    1. Models are really fun to make. And even though we do SO much 3D / Virtual work… we are, after all, STILL physical, corporeal beings… so I think even if you’re good at abstract thinking, that making / holding / touching a model… of a piece of architecture… or of a geometric form like a platonic solid or a menger sponge… is a powerful experience that gives us a sort of visceral experience of the object / architecture…

      I suppose the different scales of ANY building have this quality… viewing it from a kilometer away… standing on the ground looking up… experiencing it from the inside of some upper floor… but that seems extra true of the Orbit.

      I think the closer you get the better the experience of the Orbit is. I do still find it frustrating in terms of the skyline. I’m still reaching for that gestalt that one finds in pyramids be they in Egypt or The Yucatan… or the Golden Gate Bridge… or the 747 Jumbo Jet… or… for that matter… a product from Apple…

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