It’s probably fair to say that the world has never before seen a structure quite like the ArcelorMittal Orbit. This astonishing tower – standing 114.5 metres high in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford, London – is the largest piece of public art in Britain.
Getting to the top is a breeze – it takes 34 seconds in a cleverly designed lift. Once there, your reward is a twenty mile view over the surrounding parkland to the London skyline, beyond.
Getting down is another matter. You can take your time descending the 455 steps that spiral around the outside of the structure. You can make the trip in 40 seconds via the hair-raising tunnel slide, the longest and tallest in the world. If you’re really brave, you can step off the platform into thin air and freefall abseil 80 metres to the ground. Or, if none of that sounds appealing, you can just take the lift back down.
The tower itself was designed by the Turner Prize-winning artist, Sir Anish Kapoor, and engineer, Cecil Balmond, of Arup. It was chosen from around 50 designs submitted to create an ‘Olympic tower’, intended to be a lasting legacy to the 2012 Olympic Games. Designs had to meet a broad brief that covered art, design, longevity, public safety and entertainment.
Kapoor and Balmond aimed to create a structure that appeared unstable, ‘never centred, never quite vertical’, that used ‘instabilities as stabilities’. That much they achieved; the shape is esoteric and asymmetric.
There are three main parts to the tower: the central trunk, which contains the lifts and the canopy, and supports the observation decks; the external staircase, that winds helterskelter- like around the trunk; and the open lattice steelwork tubes, that loop and spiral around the whole.
Strength and stability is provided by the latticework, the inclusion of octagonal steel rings, and the canopy.
This is a steel cone that hangs off the bottom of the trunk, described by The Times as looking like ‘… the bell of a giant French horn’.
Facts and figures
- there’s enough steel in the tower to make 265 double-decker buses; it’s held together with 35,000 bolts
- 60% of the steel used was recycled; sources included washing machines and cars
- the structure incorporates 600 precision-built pre-fabricated star like nodes
- it would take a stack of 954 drinks cans to reach the top The steel in the building has four distinct uses: the red superstructure; the spiral staircase; the weathering steel of the canopy; and the highly polished steel mirrors in the upper viewing platform. Whatever history’s final verdict, the tower has undoubtedly showcased steel as a beautiful, versatile and very strong building material.