Anish Kapoor's tangled tower at the heart of London 2012

Artistic centrepiece of the 2012 Olympic Park will be slightly taller than Big Ben and the Statue of Liberty

The Colossus of Stratford, or the Hubble Bubble? Link to this video

It will be slightly taller than Big Ben and the Statue of Liberty, just short of the Great Pyramid of Giza and considerably shorter than the structure to which it is being compared – the Eiffel Tower. And even though it is still just a computer-generated model, it is already gathering nicknames: the Colossus of Stratford, perhaps, or the Hubble Bubble.

The official title, however, will be the ArcelorMittal Orbit and it was yesterday unveiled as the £19.1m artistic centrepiece of the 2012 Olympic Park. Designed by artist Anish Kapoor and structural engineer Cecil Balmond, the 115 metre-tall red steel tower will dominate the east London landscape and become, it is hoped, a permanent visitor attraction for generations to come.

Most of the money for it – £16m – is being provided by the steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal, Europe's richest man, while the remainder will come from the Greater London Authority.

Boris Johnson conceded that some people would say that "we are nuts, we are barmy in the depths of a recession to be building Britain's biggest ever piece of public art". But the mayor said the Olympic park had needed something extra to arouse "the curiosity and wonder" of Londoners and visitors.

The idea is that 700 people an hour will be able to use lifts to reach a viewing platform offering spectacular views over London. If they wish, they can then walk back to the ground on a looping stairway.

Kapoor and Balmond's Orbit, which will be placed between the aquatics centre and the main stadium, was chosen from a shortlist of three, beating tower-based bids by the artist Antony Gormley and the architects Caruso St John.

Johnson said he got Mittal on board as a result of a chance meeting in a cloakroom at the World Economic Forum in Davos. He spent 40 seconds outlining the concept and Mittal immediately said he would provide the steel. In total, 1,400 tonnes will be required for a build that will begin soon and is due for completion in November 2011.

Johnson is well aware that the public may baptise it differently to its given name. "Some may choose to think of it as a Colossus of Stratford, some eyes may detect a giant treble clef, a helter-skelter, a supersized mutant trombone. Some may even see the world's biggest ever representation of a shisha pipe and call it the Hubble Bubble. But I know it is the ArcelorMittal Orbit and it represents the dynamism of a city coming out of recession, the embodiment of the cross-fertilisation of cultures and styles that makes London the world capital of arts and culture."

Big symbolic London visitor attractions have a mixed history. The Brunels' Victorian Thames Tunnel was a big hit but never made money and is now used by tube trains. The Festival of Britain Skylon was toppled on the orders of Winston Churchill and made into ashtrays. The London Eye has had much more success.

It is yet to be decided whether people will be charged to go up the tower butthere will be revenue-generating opportunities for the GLA and Mittal from a restaurant on the viewing platform.

Kapoor called it "the commission of a lifetime". He said he and Balmond were referencing the Tower of Babel and trying to convey a sense of instability and a tower that could be viewed differently from different parts of the city. "It is an object that needs a journey, a journey around the object but also up and through the object. It needs real participation and engagement."


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  • Dakuan Dakuan

    31 Mar 2010, 11:17PM

    I loved the Royal Academy exhibition and can't wait to see this in real life. Lets home it doesn't end up forlorn and neutered like the tesco value stadium we ended up with.

  • eggwood eggwood

    31 Mar 2010, 11:44PM

    It looks like a prolapsed uterus. And not in a good way. Seriously, this one of the most misguided and grotesque attempts at public art I have ever seen. And I've seen a lot of them. We're going to regret this one; count on it. This isn't salvageable like the Wobbly Bridge (the last time that we had famous architect, egomaniac artist and a huge pile of money in the same room). This will be 'Hyde-Park-Diana-Fountain' level of screw-up, only this time with famous engineer, witless politician, egomaniac artist, and creepy bond-villain industrialist as the cast of characters.

  • Akula971 Akula971

    31 Mar 2010, 11:49PM

    The Emperors new clothes are in fashion in London these days. I think it is quite fitting for the times we live in. It has neither purpose or direction. It achieves nothing, but at the same time costs the GLA (tax payers money). It is twisted, red, and aims to tower over the people. It will, like the dome, be a white elephant. A fitting tribute to the government of the day. Shame on you Boris.

  • Bluejil Bluejil

    31 Mar 2010, 11:50PM

    I can't tell but it does not look as if the walkway is covered? That would be crazy. Is there an elevator for the handicapped or those that can't walk up? I'm going to have to hold opinion on this, a bit out there.

  • KrokodilGena KrokodilGena

    31 Mar 2010, 11:55PM

    It's truly ugly. We need a referendum on this. It will be the millennium dome all over again, no one will want to visit an eye sore.

    Anish Kapoor, the dullest and most pretentious of Nicholas Logsdale's artists, should stick to bland sculpture for the central offices of banks.

    I shall forever now look out of my window and wonder why Johnson has any right to do this to that view.

  • misshero misshero

    31 Mar 2010, 11:56PM

    Eiffel tower? Awful Tower, more like. It looks like a bicycle wheel that's been rather expertly stomped on, whilst chained to railings. There are enough of those in Stratford already.

  • Drahdiwaberl Drahdiwaberl

    1 Apr 2010, 12:07AM

    I was absolutely convinced this was an April Fool's joke until you put the video up with Boris and all that. Now I'm not so sure.

    Whatever it is, it does seem to owe a certain something to the Tatlin Tower, designed by the Soviet architect Vladimir Tatlin in the 1920s (though never built) as a monument to the Communist Third International.
    (look it up on the wiki or google images if you want to know)

    basically it was an enormous diagonal strut with spirals going up round it (and they were actually meant to revolve in Tatlin's case)

    painting it red's a bit of a give-away, too. Shouldn't someone have warned Boris about this?

  • musolen musolen

    1 Apr 2010, 12:15AM

    Hmm. I have just spent 5 minutes looking at it and imaging myself inside it. It's a piece of art and I am very slow to judge any art.
    Some ideas or plans you get an emotive feeling for in just contemplating the design but I don't really get anything at all from looking at this.
    As with all art you need to experience the real thing, as we can't all conceptualise but my immediate reaction is one of it being a set design from a 3D animator for a film set. I have been wrong before and I will be again, but this looks to me like it will date very quickly. Shame.

  • M0ngrel M0ngrel

    1 Apr 2010, 12:20AM

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  • Clunie Clunie

    1 Apr 2010, 12:27AM

    That is one seriously fugly structure, thank God it's Lakshmi Mittal funding it and I don't live in London so don't have to look at it.
    It's definitely not the April Fool article, unfortunately - that's the Gordon Brown as-bare-knuckle-streetfighter and working class hero election campaign poster idea. Very funny it is too.

  • Frites Frites

    1 Apr 2010, 12:31AM

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  • Akula971 Akula971

    1 Apr 2010, 12:33AM

    Well M0ngrel,

    waaah waaah, we had the angel of the north fausted on us up here. Years later, we still hate it, big Stalinist art. But then again what do we simple folk know of such things as art?
    Harry made a bare backed rider........ignored by all the trendy boys in London......

    Get the Drift?

    Its Dire Straits if that monstrosity is built. Why is it so difficult to design something that the vast majority of people would like and approve of ?

  • AsifB AsifB

    1 Apr 2010, 12:41AM

    It was in yesterdays Evening Standard as well so looks like a non Fool story.

    A Big Bong. In Stratford. Next to sports stadium. Nuff said. (Except no doubt the observation deck will be popular)

  • Akula971 Akula971

    1 Apr 2010, 12:42AM

    you know what? Why not just build a huge f**k off Tesco there instead. It will be of more use during the games and after. More representative of Britain today too. I'd wager it would get more visitors as well. Looks like plenty of room for car parking too. I can see it now, the 2012 Tesco Olympics!

  • SkaGangsta SkaGangsta

    1 Apr 2010, 12:48AM

    I'm sure people will grow to like this in time. The comment about the Angel of the North was spot on, its iconic and used everywhere now. As for the waste of money cry. That Mittal bloke is stumping up nearly all of the cost, so it isn't really is it? It does remind me though of a roller coaster that has been crumpled together.

  • micheil65 micheil65

    1 Apr 2010, 1:02AM

    It will not age well, we have a museum in Canberra reminiscent of this in its prominence and design and it looks flashy cheap and out of date. Why this craze for structures that dominate the landscape? London is in danger of turning into a gimmicky toytown. Well put Akula 971 totally agree.

  • Zepp Zepp

    1 Apr 2010, 1:06AM

    If you asked a schizophrenic to make a drawing of how he fancied his DNA molecules might look, this might be the result.

    Then there's the matter of the loops. Towers are meant to reach for the sky. This one looks like it tries, and keeps falling back.

  • Flappy Flappy

    1 Apr 2010, 1:10AM

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  • ryko25 ryko25

    1 Apr 2010, 1:21AM

    How are these things decided? Do we (the people) never get a say?
    It seems such abominations are sneaked through, or just plain foisted upon society. Remember the Euston Arch?

    Another piece of crap ADORED by 100% of architects(vested interest) and wannabee architects ("no, you heathens, I UNDERSTAND art") and hated by everybody else.
    The greatest trick the art/architecture world ever played was convincing everybody that The Emperor's New Clothes was nothing more than cliche.

  • whood whood

    1 Apr 2010, 1:24AM

    Unless that spiral is actually a slide, count me out.

    And remember - the existence of bad public art is in the public's hands : after all, the Brummies burnt down the Butter Mountain...

  • ColdPenguin ColdPenguin

    1 Apr 2010, 1:29AM

    Just saw it on the BBC - its small - about a third of the Eiffel tower's height - a few feet higher than the Statue of Liberty.

    This thing will just be an ugly embarrassment that will cheapen the Games.

  • logothetes logothetes

    1 Apr 2010, 1:38AM

    I love Kapoor's other work but this is truly astonishingly hideous, and the reference to the Eiffel Tower, however self-deprecating and oblique, utterly hideous. What a monstrous and ugly waste.

  • ClubOwner ClubOwner

    1 Apr 2010, 1:59AM

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  • BetelgeuseA BetelgeuseA

    1 Apr 2010, 2:04AM

    It makes me feel a little bit ill just to look at it. Surely that's not a good thing.

    I suppose Anish Kapoor comes associated with a certain hype and all that, but I can't make up my mind on this one at all.

  • BetelgeuseA BetelgeuseA

    1 Apr 2010, 2:09AM

    I do wonder though, can there be such a thing as a public petition?
    Or is Britain going to head down the road of comparisons-are-a-total-no-go, what with China having been brilliant the last time around?

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