Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Tower? Sculpture? Iconic attraction?

DESIGN. The design story of the Easter weekend was undoubtedly the unveiling of Anish Kapoor’s twisted tower that is expected to become the symbol of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
“A big vertical invitation to London”, said London Mayor Boris Johnson in a promotional video announcing the decision to choose Anish Kapoor’s tower for the Olympic Park.
In the presentation of the ArcelorMittal Orbit, as the official name will be, the 115 metre-tall structure is called a sculpture.
Kapoor’s says that the closest comparison would be the Eiffel Tower in Paris. You just have to imagine the Eiffel Tower painted in red and its steel structure twisted into an enormous knot rising towards the sky (right, image copyright: Arup).
“He (Kapoor) has taken the idea of a tower, and transformed it into a piece of modern British art”, says Mayor Johnson in a personal reflection over the £19 million project.
“Of course some people are saying that we are nuts in the depths of a recession to be building Britain’s biggest ever piece of public art.”
The project’s main sponsor is the international steel company ArcelorMittal. CEO Lakshmi Mittal was introduced to the idea at a chance meeting with Boris Johnson in a cloakroom at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
Anish Kapoor, born in Bombay but based in London since the early 70’s, won an international competition for the commission with the structure he designed together with famous structural engineer Cecil Balmond.
The idea behind the project is to build an attraction in East London that will last beyond the 2012 Games.
“With £ 9.3 billion going into the Games, we need to do everything we can to regenerate the area and to ensure the crowds are still coming here in 2013 and beyond. Our ambition is to turn the Stratford site into a place of destination, a must-see item of the tourist itinerary and we believe the ArcelorMittal Orbit will help us achieve that aim”, says Mayor Johnson in his personal reflection.
Anish Kapoor says that the ambition with the design has been to convey a sense of instability and a tower that could be viewed differently from different parts of the city.
The idea is getting generally favourable reviews in the British press.
Jonathan Glancey, the Guardian’s architecture critic, calls it a genuine eyecatcher.
“What an extraordinary thing this is: a strange and enticing marriage of sorts between the Eiffel Tower and Tatlin’s Tower (an unbuilt Soviet Russian monument designed in 1920 that would have dwarfed Eiffel’s), with the Tower of Babel as best man”, writes Glancey.
“It’s anti-bling, and its brusque form will be either loved or hated”, writes The Independent in a comment.
Rowan Moore in the Observer voices some concern over the project.
“It is the most extravagant example yet of the idea that a big, strange object can lift tens of thousands of people out of deprivation. This idea has had some successes, but the Orbit could mark the point at which it overreaches itself and we decide to try something different in the future”.
Anyone who has seen the public affection for Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate-sculpture in Chicago will recommend you to wait until the tangled steel of the Orbit is in place before passing judgment.


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