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Britain’s tallest sculpture, the ruby red, 37-storey Arcelormittal Orbit, offers incredibly compelling, panoramic views of London from its two-tier observation deck. The views can be so compelling, in fact, that last Friday guards had to be called in to eject the spectators that were refusing to budge.
The 1,500-ton-steel tower located in East London’s Olympic Park was primarily designed by engineer Cecil Balmond and Turner Prize-winning artist Anish Kapoor, who created the stainless steel sculpture Cloud Gate, also known as the Millennium Bean, in Chicago’s Grant Park.
To tour the Orbit, visitors gather under its base, a red fibreglass canopy that resembles the mouth of a gigantic red trombone. While waiting for the elevator to the top, time-lapse videos of the structure’s construction are shown, with scenes of the two construction workers -- yes, only two -- assembling sections of tubular steel like a child’s construction set.
From the outdoor section of the observation deck, the view of Olympic Park outshines that of London’s distinctive skyline. The park has 4,000 trees and 150,000 perennial plants, including many golden wildflowers, which can be clearly seen scattered around canals and among the distinctive Games venues.
The indoor portion of the observation deck includes a pair of over-size, concave mirrors that produce fun-house reflections of visitors. A central window in the deck allows visitors to look down almost straight to the bottom of the sculpture.
At the end of the half-hour tour, visitors are encouraged to walk down the spiralling 455-step staircase along the outside the tower to enjoy the full effect of the structure’s shape-shifting form.
With a silhouette vaguely evoking a shisha pipe, the Orbit’s unconventional design has sparked controversy, being variously described as “the Eyeful Tower”, “the Eiffel Tower after a nuclear attack”, and “the Hubble Bubble”.
“We wanted to see if we could create a structure that seemed unstable, seemed to be propping itself up,” said Balmond in a statement. “So, we’ve slowly evolved a form that seems to be teetering, weaving itself, a loop.... The whole thing is in a twist, it’s never centred, never quite vertical.”
After the Games, the tower will be temporarily closed until the Olympic Park is re-developed into a site that is expected to eventually feature public swimming pools and sports complexes, residential housing and a museum dedicated to London’s history of hosting three Olympic Games. In July 2013, the Orbit is expected to re-open as a ticketed attraction with a cafe that can also host private functions.
While it hibernates, the Orbit will continue to serve as a landmark, illuminated by coloured spotlights, and from time to time there will be a 15-minute light show.