Will the Orbit become London's Eiffel?

How does Anish Kapoor's 'Mr Messy' design for an Olympic tower compare to Gustave Eiffel's Paris icon?

London Mayor Unveils Anish Kapoor Sculpture For 2012 Olympic Park

Work of art, or corporate entertainment? Anish Kapoor's design for the Orbit tower. Photograph: Getty Images

At the unveiling of Anish Kapoor's design for the Orbit tower it was compared to the Colossus of Rhodes and the Tower of Babel. But the history of those follies isn't auspicious. The Colossus of Rhodes was destroyed by an earthquake after standing for only a few decades, and the Tower of Babel was, the book of Genesis tells us, constructed to glorify those that constructed it.

I can't help wondering to what extent the ArcelorMittal Orbit is being built for the glory of Boris Johnson, Kapoor and Lakshmi Mittal. And as details emerge of its Olympic corporate entertainment role, it looks less and less like a work of art. But setting the motivation of the creators aside, the worst comparison of all is with the Eiffel Tower.

Gustave Eiffel's iconic tower was not designed as a piece of public art, nor was it intended to remain in Paris more than 20 years. It was built as a grand entrance for the Exposition Universelle of 1889, and was designed to be easy to take apart. It became a work of art in the eyes of the world against the protestations of the Parisian art world. And it remained, in part, because of its utility. It was used for early radio experiments at the start of the 20th century and in 1910 the tower was used to detect cosmic rays. To this day its top bristles with antennae, and its bottom bustles with tourists.

Another problem with comparing Kapoor's structure with Eiffel's is that what makes the Parisian tower so pleasing to the eye is that its shape was dictated by the forces of the wind, not by the foolishness of man. Eiffel is quoted as saying:

"Now to what phenomenon did I have to give primary concern in designing the Tower? It was wind resistance. Well then! I hold that the curvature of the monument's four outer edges, which is as mathematical calculation dictated it should be will give a great impression of strength and beauty, for it will reveal to the eyes of the observer the boldness of the design as a whole."
By following the forces of nature, Eiffel's massive iron structure appears graceful and almost part of the natural environment.

By comparison, Kapoor's structure is a prime example of man demonstrating his mastery over nature. The sweeping shape is reminiscent of melted roller coaster ride, or as one Twitter user put it: "It looks like congealed intestines". The horror of which was only replaced in my mind by the relief of recalling that Kapoor and not Damien Hirst had been awarded the design contract.

But the worst part about comparing the Orbit with the Eiffel is the idea that London needs to rival Paris in the metal tower stakes. London already beat Paris to host the 2012 Olympics; now it seems Johnson wants to rub salt in French wounds. The copycat unoriginality of building London's Eiffel verges on parody when one realises that the Orbit will be 100m shorter than the Parisian monument and 20m shorter than the diminutive Blackpool Tower.

The true determinant of whether the Orbit deserves a place on London's skyline should be how it is perceived by Londoners. It would be hard to find a Parisian today who hates the Eiffel Tower; Boris Johnson should set a 20-year time limit on Kapoor's tower and let the public decide. If in 2032 it hasn't endeared itself to the residents of Stratford and beyond it should be pulled down. Since the tower is to be made of steel it could be safely recycled.

That standard has applied to at least one other London icon. The giant ferris wheel London Eye, after all, was initially a temporary attraction that married engineering prowess with a graceful form. It has stood the test of time and looks set to stay on the banks of the River Thames. In it London already has a worthy rival for Eiffel. And from it a panoramic view of London is already possible.

Writing in the Times, the architecture critic Tom Dyckhoff described the tower as a "giant Mr Messy". But initial reactions should be tempered by allowing time to pass; perhaps I'll get over thinking it looks like a giant blood clot. Whether you love it or hate it, the last word should go to Johnson, who said of the Orbit: "It would have boggled Gustave Eiffel". There's no arguing with that.

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  • stevehill stevehill

    2 Apr 2010, 2:09PM

    Are we not pissing away enough money on this ludicrous circus without having to add tawdry bells and whistles?

    Will someone please tell Boris the country is bloody well bankrupt. I'd rather keep a few teachers in work, OK?

  • PhilipD PhilipD

    2 Apr 2010, 2:11PM

    It does seem to be trying to be 'different' for the sake of being different. Lets face it, virtually all the variations on tall, slender spires have been done.

    But I think the 20 year rule is a very sensible one. The test of time is the only true test for huge objects like this. I remember when the Angel of the North was despised by nearly all the locals, now its hugely popular. The same with the Spire of Dublin.

  • LSEscientist LSEscientist

    2 Apr 2010, 2:14PM

    London already beat Paris to host the 2012 Olympics; now it seems Johnson wants to rub salt in French wounds.

    No Paris was lucky, and we were foolish.

    Let us hope the terrorists give it a miss but the odds are that a cell of suicide bombers not Anish Kapoo will create the lasting memory of 2012.

  • farfetched farfetched

    2 Apr 2010, 2:21PM

    It is not aestheically pleasing, not grand, not at all inspiring or even very useful. And it's in the wrong place - who will bother to travel to shitty Stratford once the Olympics are over?

  • DrJohnZoidberg DrJohnZoidberg

    2 Apr 2010, 2:26PM

    even if built it'll last 50 years tops before it topples over.

    there does seem to be a bit of the emperor's new clothes about this...let's face it, it's not public monumental art, it's a fucking hideous bunch of girders stuck together.

    i'm with stevehill, we're fucking skint and the last thing we need is a billionaire's vanity project. better schools and services, or just using the money to maintain the current levels...but this monstrosity is ridiculous.


    2 Apr 2010, 2:28PM

    ***I can't help wondering to what extent the ArcelorMittal Orbit is being built for the glory of Boris Johnson, Kapoor and Lakshmi Mittal.***

    Indeed, but looking on the bright side - at least it will piss off Prince Charles, Brian Sewell,and Richard Littlejohn.

  • cinematizer cinematizer

    2 Apr 2010, 2:29PM

    Boris was right it looks just like a shisha (hubble bubble) which the smoking ban has banned.
    Because of this I like it, the idea of a great big shisha reaching to the sky is absolutely right on.
    Bring it on.

  • omnivore omnivore

    2 Apr 2010, 2:30PM

    You are absolutely right that the underlying difference is the Eiffel Tower's elegant allegiance to mathematical beauty. I know that the advocates for Kapoor's tower will say that the progress of engineering and fabrication makes this the equivalent. But it isn't and that's because in the french version, everything contributes to the overall integrity of a single structure. Kapoor's self-indulgent fantasy is clearly a group of parts arbitrarily related. Just the fact of the great loop that exceeds the height of the observation gallery is both stupid and illustrative of the difference. At least in a roller coaster, the engineering is aimed at the minimum to get the maximum effect. The real counter to Eiffel's tour de force is the Gherkin in this sense.

    These ideas are all a return to the underlying ethos of Modernism, the form reflects function ideal that clever critics are dismissive of. Kapoor has illustrated the maxim that if you give them enough rope, they'll hang themselves. The Eiffel Tower is really the original expression of modern ideal, and it is revealing that it remains the standard that these things get measured by.

    Then, there's the rationale that it somehow pays tribute to the Olympic Rings. Jesus help us. Architects (and artists) who have these "looks just like" ideas are doing the equivalent of writing a symphony where every instrument in the orchestra is entirely devoted to mimicking the sound of farm animals. I like Peter and the Wolf, but I don't want it as a national anthem.

    The one to do this should have been Calatrava, who really captures the essential art-in-engineering that a tower, a bridge or a train station needs to embody. If Beckham went to Real Madrid, surely they could have brought a spaniard over for this.

    Of course, when London is swimming in debt after the party, it'll be a wonderful reminder of past bad judgement.

  • winelabels winelabels

    2 Apr 2010, 2:32PM

    It is a ghastly eyesore.

    I've not seen any comments about its red colour --- how much will be the recurring bill for painting it -- there are so many surfaces? Or is it rust?

    If Boris wants a monument can't we promise him a plaque in Westminster Abbey instead of this pile of .....

  • tomper2 tomper2

    2 Apr 2010, 2:33PM

    What is it with London Mayors and their seemingly compulsive need to litter the London skyline with big ugly erections?

    I suppose it could be worse. If Ken was still in power this would probably be a big statue of Ken.

  • translated translated

    2 Apr 2010, 2:34PM

    Anything that big is going to be awesome just because it is big - the design itself is doesn't matter that much. Once you add this to the London skyline along with the eye and that cigar thing, the London horizon is going to start looking like a giant amusement park. Not saying that's a bad thing, but it is different from Paris where the Eiffel tower stands alone.

  • haward haward

    2 Apr 2010, 2:39PM

    Why do we always have to have the second best? Why , if we have a monument , can't it be the biggest and the best? We're always looking at cost and not saying " the hell with the accountants ; let's build something to make the world gasp". Instead we get the goddam Dome and this scruffy helter skelter.

    I wnat something 1500 feet high. Something British. Something that will last a millenium. Don't worry about the cost ; your children will pay for it later

  • duppyconqueror duppyconqueror

    2 Apr 2010, 2:46PM

    This comment has been removed by a moderator. Replies may also be deleted.
  • tomedinburgh tomedinburgh

    2 Apr 2010, 2:49PM

    I think it is a fitting monument to the New Labour era. This 'tower' is a metaphor for every other organisation or service designed by New Labour without reference to efficiency and the laws of nature.

  • AlisonWhite AlisonWhite

    2 Apr 2010, 2:50PM

    Staff Staff

    I think it looks like two if the tripod things from War Of The Worlds had a huge fight and expired leant against a wall, all tangled up in each others legs.

    Why can't we just have a sky-scraper type tower? Chicago and New York have great skylines from all the huge buildings there. We could bung in some affordable housing for key workers and bingo, everyone is happy.

  • okilydokily okilydokily

    2 Apr 2010, 2:52PM

    I think it is good and i hope it is built - it reminds me of a an exhibit at Gunther Von Hagens original body worlds exhibition where he plastinated the blood vessels only.

    The only thing that would go down well with half of CIF readership is a 200ft statue of Pope Urban II towering over Tipton.

  • sparerib sparerib

    2 Apr 2010, 2:52PM

    There must have been a selection of designs put forward for some committee to choose from, if this is what they decided was the most pleasing I'm wondering what the others were like.

  • proudlycynical proudlycynical

    2 Apr 2010, 3:08PM

    Mittal is one of the biggest steelmakers in the world - he is sponsoring the design - the design requires 1400 tons of steel - substantial order for Mittal Steel - connections anyone?...or downright phallocentrism?

  • DonkeyLogic DonkeyLogic

    2 Apr 2010, 3:09PM

    Always remember that when it comes to "big gestures" and "public art" the UK reverts to the 18th century... and we bow to some dusty fucks from the Establishment, for "their judgement"

    Eric Cantona = perfection

  • veryconcerned00 veryconcerned00

    2 Apr 2010, 3:16PM

    I like it in a decadent sort of way. I feel like a century from now people will look at it and say that it symbolized perfectly the hubris and folly of our era and the unavoidable decline that would follow. The tower of babel comparison is apt.

  • barryanderic barryanderic

    2 Apr 2010, 3:16PM

    Obviously those responsible for the commissioning have access to money
    they have time to waste. As a design it has no value, a space filler hoisted
    on us to represent what?
    There are thousands of people who could possibly have come up with
    something of quality and integrity but of course they weren't asked.

  • ChristinaMeredith ChristinaMeredith

    2 Apr 2010, 3:18PM

    Contributor Contributor

    2 Apr 2010, 2:45
    Wasn't this an April Fool joke?

    Damn, I thought it was one of the Guardians April Fool jokes as well!


    out of control permrod is great

    Loved PhilippaB's Ikea lamp and fingerknitting yesterday (article repetition?)

  • Arrowhead Arrowhead

    2 Apr 2010, 3:33PM

    Just as the Parisian's hated the Eiffel Tower at first, as it seems many here do; I'm sure just like the London Eye it will fast become part of London's Skyline and a major London tourist attraction generating millions!

    I think it looks brilliant.

  • brianboru1014 brianboru1014

    2 Apr 2010, 3:35PM

    The Eiffel Tower was not built to shock.
    This construction unfortunately was.
    It is like a bad B movie at present, but who knows when one or maybe a second knowledgeable connoisseur of most modern 21st century art decrees it's profundity the cultured citizens will be in thrall to this great work.

  • Alphamail Alphamail

    2 Apr 2010, 3:37PM

    It's the perfect testament to 13 years of Nulabour...

    It doesn't have to be classical... but maybe symmetrical would be nice?

    Few fountains, bit of water is always nice, stone rather than concrete.

    You just know the judging committee is extremelty right-on, very diversified and representative of about 1% of us...

    Currently what we have is an out of control haemorrhoid...

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