Abomination or Art?

The ArcelorMittal Orbit, otherwise known as the red spiralling thing, is like Marmite – you either love it or hate it. After interviewing Ian Louden, Head of Brand, Worldwide and a General Manager of ArcelorMittal, and experiencing The Orbit first-hand, I endeavour to shed light on the question: is this tower ‘Abomination or Art?’

Renowned artist Anish Kapoor, the mind behind the design, is quoted to have said: ‘what The Orbit looks like does not matter. It’s how it makes you feel that’s important.’ With Tate director Sir Nicholas Serota, who sits on the board of the Olympic Delivery Authority, supporting the design, Anish Kapoor certainly won the hearts of some powerful figures in the art world. However, the £15 ticket to site-see and £22.7 million spent on building the tower at a time of recession has left many feeling sceptical about what the tower represents and its legacy after the London 2012 Olympic Games.

Ian Louden explains that Anish Kapoor’s design is ‘bold, innovative and unique’ and ‘deliberately challenging’ and that Mayor of London Boris Johnson wanted ‘something that inspires the awe and wonder of visitors and visitors alike.’ Mr Louden also explains that the bold design represents the company ArcelorMittal and showcases what steel can do. Lakshmi Mittal, chairman and chief executive officer of ArcelorMittal, contributed £19.6 million worth of steel towards the tower and donated the tower as a gift to London – a pricey gift for a love of London.

Providing some insight on the design, Mr Louden describes how the tower is formulated from six pointed stars all of different lengths and angles which give The Orbit its twist. The steel was manufactured in different parts of the country and brought together on site; the tower clearly a risk in both design and construction. However, the tower truly symbolises the ethics of unity of the Olympic Games and represents multi-cultural Britain as the recycled steel was obtained from Mr Mittal’s plants from around the world so that numerous countries are part of, and brought together, in this showpiece.

Also, the structure is made to encapsulate humanity. With the concept that the visitor is at the centre and that the steel tendrils orbit the visitor, essentially, one is at the centre of the Earth. I did indeed feel as though I was circling the globe as I tried to find the queuing section. It also involves human interaction as you walk around it and in it.

Whilst queuing, a steel canopy above you is deliberately dark and oppressive to provoke an air of mystery. Once in the lift to go up, you are further enclosed, almost claustrophobic, with nothing but small portholes in which you can see the steel enveloping you. But once you reach the top floor, a gush of light and breath-taking sights await.

The artist’s imagination does not stop at the shape or design of the tower but filters through inside the tower. With two mirrors placed on each side of the tower, your mind is affected by how you view yourself and the world. Crouching down at one particular angle, you are able to view London upside down through the mirrors; a truly a magnificent spectacle.

Speaking to some fellows crouchers, they describe their experience of The ArcelorMittal Orbit as ‘unusual,’ ‘compelling’ and ‘otherwise unimaginable.’ Mr Louden tells me that he likes ‘to think the tower wakes up’ as it represents an ‘organic,’ ‘molecular’ form and its red lights ‘make it look almost as if it is breathing.’

It is said that the ArcelorMittal will reopen to the public in 2013, along with parts of the Olympics site. Also, it is said that it will have a modest cafe on one of the floors and that the ticket price will be significantly lower.

After experiencing The ArcelorMittal Orbit and interviewing Ian Louden, I feel like experiencing it again. It is a shame that the Olympics authorities did not take the time to explain the concept of the design to visitors via leaflets or handbooks as knowing this information, I believe, would enhance the experience. But the question is: are you sold? Are you now convinced that this tower is art or does it remain, for you, an abomination?