Orbit opinions - Design Bureau

Orbit opinions

Monday, May 14th, 2012

By Gem Barton

Last week, Orbit, London’s new Olympic Tower was previewed for the public, and this week it is reacting. 

Anish Kapoor, the sculptor responsible for Chicago's popular Cloud Gate (“the Bean”), won an international competition to design the Olympic Tower, the Orbit.  Orbit, commissioned by the Mayor of London and designed in collaboration with the imaginative structural engineer Cecil Balmond, is intended to attract visitors during and after the London 2012 Olympics. It opens to the public in July—and adult admission will cost a whopping £15—which even Kapoor has bemoaned. The project is said to have cost £22.7m, with the vast majority of that figure coming from the deep pockets of Britain's richest man, the steel tycoon Lakshmi Mittal, chairman of the ArcelorMittal steel company.

The 114m steel structure has aspirations akin to the Eiffel Tower. The Eiffel Tower, of course, was intended to be temporary but the people of France and the world loved it so dearly [after 50 years] that permanence was bestowed upon it. So far, the Orbit has not received such a warm welcome, especially from the Brits. Has it affected it’s own success by prematurely striving to be a design icon, a structural marvel and a piece of ‘history’ during and long after the games will end? Surely these labels are earned not gifted.

The British public is often reserved, even laid back. If there is one thing that stirs opinion and debate it is art, public art even more so. When it’s big and expensive, every man and his dog has an opinion to share.

We asked a number of Brits—artists, architects, designers, schoolteachers, accountants, parking attendants and more—what they think of the Orbit. Here’s what they told us.

When I saw it mid-build, I was more impressed with the crane. I think it's an embarrassment to all concerned.”

I can't wait to visit! I love the abstract nature of the design - it is dynamic, the way people circulate, the structural qualities and colour are fantastic.

I saw this when was last in London, I thought it was weird scaffolding...Couldn't believe it was purposely built as a monument! Piece of sh*t!”

“I really want to like it and applaud the change of direction away from the tasteful... But it's a funny ungainly thing! Overall I enjoy the lack of profundity though!

“I choose to abstain, however my staff add the following commentary -> #fail #wtf #facepalm . They are a mature gaggle.”

“I think it relies a bit on the old 'It's really big, isn't it impressive?' thing. I thought for a while it could have been quite an elegant structure, but it seemed to become less so as it went up – it will be interesting to see if it becomes more loved over time. Also to see if the public like it more than architects do. The viewing platform Iooks pretty ungainly. That said, I'm usually a fan of architectural follies like this.”

I do think it’s an amazing sculpture when you read about it, but personally I wouldn't like to look at it out of my bedroom window!!”

“I'm hoping its better when experienced first hand, and you get to experience its scale. You usually need the context Anish Kapoor's work. Normally you can sense the volumetric quality of his work even in a photo, I am not feeling the love for this piece. Yet!“

“Nice to see a flamboyant sculptural project, but not so elegant, looks a bit threatening (think War of the Worlds). And why red?”

“It's an incredibly contrived confection, but with an equally ambitious intent... ...personally I think it lacks a level of sophistication and reserve that a piece of this nature demands.... ...the oft touted reference is the Eiffel Tower, and the drama tall icons juxtaposed against residential create... ...I buy into this to some extent, however the form, detail and composition are unfortunately poor... ...It irritates me that the UK continues to over state and over design in such circumstances.”

I think it's amazing, full of energy, not sure why it's got so much stick? The engineering behind it is a triumph.”

“An ugly piece of machinery that's only saviour is possibly the light show. But mainly it’s just a money show from those involved.”

“I can see the engineering behind it, yet visually it's ugly. Funds could have been spent better...”

“I like it! Looks like a helter skelter but I'd like to go up to viewing platform one day.”

It sort of reminds me of those aliens in Sim City. Even more so at night when it glows with red anger.”

“I am still waiting for either its beauty or its ugliness to provoke me - which might put it in the furtive territory in-between?”

I think it is an artist's failed attempt to create architecture...Total waste of money, resources and materials...sorry to sound too harsh but all I want to ask him is "Why?"

Its hugely disappointing no? It looks like a '90s roller coaster ride...”

“I love it visually, but object to the obscene cost.”

I feel that the excessive use of steel is in disharmony with the current thinking of environmental design and saving resources. Not very elegant.”

I find it pleasing, it vibrates as though it’s tied itself through itself to contain itself and makes sense as an excellent expression of the power and scale of the commissioning company's services.”

“In short, a hideous waste of money - love his work, but it definitely isn't in the same league as Chicago Bean!”

Mayor of London, Boris Johnson pre-empted possible criticism of the project during the official launch, by stating: "Of course some people will say we are nuts – in the depths of a recession – to be building Britain’s biggest ever piece of public art.”

What do I think? I believe in this case Kapoor has been driven by the materiality, one with which he doesn’t have a huge history. The nature of the competition stipulated steel as the main construction material due to the relationship with ArcelorMittal. This condition, along with the necessity for habitation, pushed Kapoor’s boundary between art and architecture. 

But who is to say these opinions won’t all change in ten weeks or ten years? If there’s one thing we British do better than drink tea, it’s change our minds. 

Tagged with: