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.
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