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120m high and very, very red: the best seat at the Olympic Games

By Jay Merrick, Architecture Correspondent

An artist's impression of the 120-metre ArcelorMittal Orbit tower on the site of the 2012 London Olympics. It will be Britain's largest ever public artwork

An artist's impression of the 120-metre ArcelorMittal Orbit tower on the site of the 2012 London Olympics. It will be Britain's largest ever public artwork

The capital's own version of the Eiffel Tower, 120 metres high and visible from outside London, has been chosen as the monument to mark and tower over the 2012 Olympic Games.

The tall, looping tower on the 2012 Olympic site, designed by Anish Kapoor and Cecil Balmond, will be Britain's largest ever public artwork. Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, says it will be a brilliant totem of post-Olympic urban regeneration in Docklands, and one that would have "boggled the minds" of the Romans, and of Gustave Eiffel, whose own tower he so admires.

Johnson's Tower of Boggle spawns other boggles. The potential cost of the structure, for example, would have been politically disastrous if the billionaire Indian steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal had not agreed to supply 1,400 tons of metal free, equivalent to £16m of the total £19m cost (the rest comes from the London Development Agency).

Kapoor and Balmond beat design teams led by Antony Gormley and architects Caruso St John. In engineering terms, the Orbit Tower has no clear-cut precedent; nor does it bear any of Kapoor's hallmarks. Its sculptural power lies in its ability to suggest an unfinished form in the process of becoming something else. It is strange, it is not an eye-con, and there is something artistically risky about it.

And this is the blood-red structure's essential virtue. In the last half century, the public art movement has too often pockmarked Britain's towns and cities with banal artworks – turds in the plaza, as the architect James Wines put it – that fail to engage the eye, the heart, or the mind.

There's something beautifully fractious, and not quite knowable, about the ArcelorMittal Orbit tower's design. It's anti-bling, and its brusque form will be either loved or hated.

The decision to build the tower was decided in moments, and in true power-broker style. "Had I not bumped into Lakshmi Mittal, for the first time, in a Davos cloakroom, we would not be where we are today," Johnson recalled. "Our conversation took about 45 seconds. I explained the idea, which took 40 seconds. 'Great. I'll give you the steel,' he said, and that was it."

Johnson, it should be noted, is not the avatar of monumental ambition in the capital. Nicky Gavron, Ken Livingstone's deputy mayor, told me during a party thrown by the architect Sir Terry Farrell some years ago of her vision to move Marble Arch to the western end of Oxford Street – "like the Arc de Triomphe." Just imagine the power-conversation she might have had.

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Comments

What is it?
[info]peterbon wrote:
Thursday, 1 April 2010 at 04:32 am (UTC)
Is it a roller coaster with a helipad two-third the way up?
or maybe a British Rail track layed using one of their faulty GPS theodolite?

In my opinion, this is an eyesore and cheap gimmick.
In short, a truck load of red ore rubbish!
Re: What is it?
[info]mrjcwhit wrote:
Friday, 2 April 2010 at 04:09 am (UTC)
It maybe a gimmick, but cheap it definitely isn't
public art
[info]madamd123 wrote:
Thursday, 1 April 2010 at 06:27 am (UTC)
I sincerely hope that someone will do a "Christo" on this piece of Anish Kapoor's piece as soon as possible. Don't get me wrong, he was the inspiration that made me want to be an artist myself but the ying without the yang makes it feel ugly and incomplete!
Re: public art
[info]dydor wrote:
Thursday, 1 April 2010 at 07:08 am (UTC)
It needs the Tong too if it's ambitions are to be fully realised.
April Fools?
[info]shelair wrote:
Thursday, 1 April 2010 at 07:58 am (UTC)
Please let this be an April Fool Joke
Re: April Fools?
[info]markmyword49 wrote:
Thursday, 1 April 2010 at 09:45 am (UTC)
I thought that until I read the Guardian and realised that it isn't. Think what £16million could do for the rundown areas where steel was once manufactured. A pile of rusting steel isn't the answer. A vanity project to the glory of a man who has thrown thousands out of work. Typical Johnson and his cronies.
Eye-con?
[info]sandil wrote:
Thursday, 1 April 2010 at 09:48 am (UTC)
Did you mean "icon"? Or something that cons the eye?
O-Lympics
[info]g0annahead wrote:
Thursday, 1 April 2010 at 01:02 pm (UTC)
Who said the Olympics sportsmanship has been sold out by commercialism and the desire for self-glorification.
James May Let Loose
[info]johnsonetwo wrote:
Thursday, 1 April 2010 at 01:36 pm (UTC)
The ending of Planet of the Apes was clever.
Jeff Waynn's Musical Version of War of the Worlds brilliant. The Journalist "NO ONE WOULD HAVE BELIEVED,IN THE FIRST YEARS OF THE TWENTY FIRST CENTURY,THAT HUMAN AFFAIRS WERE BEING WATCHED FROM THE TIMELESS WORLDS OF SPACE. FEW MEN EVER CONSIDERED THE POSSIBILITY OF JAMES MAYS TIME ON OTHER PLANETS. AND YET, ACROSS THE GULF OF SPACE, MINDS IMMEASURABLY SUPERIOR TO OURS REGARDING THIS EARTH WITH ENVIOUS EYES, CAME UP WITH THIS.
Early April Fools joke?
[info]maybelle235 wrote:
Thursday, 1 April 2010 at 02:39 pm (UTC)
I saw this yesterday -31 March and was reminded of a scene fomr the film 'War of the Worlds' when Tom Cruse gets picked up into a net by one of the creatures. Surely this sculpture is an April Fools joke?

Jesus. It's the Eiffel Tower
[info]steerpike66 wrote:
Thursday, 1 April 2010 at 03:09 pm (UTC)
just bigger, graceless, confused and RED.

Rubbish.
Public vote?
[info]606_member wrote:
Saturday, 3 April 2010 at 10:41 am (UTC)
Things like this should be decided by public vote, including with the Olympic logo which cost the tax payer £400,000; whereas the public could and would have designed something alot more appropriate for free (like China did for thier logo for Beijing 2008). Some of these proposed sculptures including the 'Horse of the South' are rubbusih! These will never be iconic, and i wish the public were allowed to vote or have a say on the sculpturesthat are exibited today.

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