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ArcelorMittal Orbit
ArcelorMittal Orbit at night.jpg
General information
Type Observation tower
Location Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
London, E20
United Kingdom
Coordinates 51°32′18″N 0°0′48″W / 51.53833°N 0.01333°W / 51.53833; -0.01333
Estimated completion May 2012
Opened April 2014
Cost £22.7 million
Owner Olympic Park Legacy Company (on completion), ownership transferred to London Legacy Development Corporation
Management ENGIE Services Limited on behalf of London Legacy Development Corporation
Height 114.5 m (376 ft)
Technical details
Floor area 300 m2 (3,229 sq ft)
Design and construction
Architect Designed by Anish Kapoor with Sir Cecil Balmond of Arup Group, architect Ushida Findlay Architects
Developer Arcelor Mittal and London Development Agency
Structural engineer Arup
Arcelormittal Orbit and Olympic Stadium (14812376829)
Arcelormittal Orbit and London Stadium
BacklitMeet@towerTop
View from the ArcelorMittal Orbit

The ArcelorMittal Orbit (often referred to as the Orbit Tower or its original name, Orbit) is a 114.5-metre-high sculpture and observation tower in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford, London. It is Britain's largest piece of public art, and is intended to be a permanent lasting legacy of London's hosting of the 2012 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games, assisting in the post-Olympics regeneration of the Stratford area. Sited between the Olympic Stadium (now called London Stadium) and the Aquatics Centre, it allows visitors to view the whole Olympic Park from two observation platforms.

Orbit was designed by Turner-Prize winning artist Sir Anish Kapoor and Cecil Balmond of Arup Group, an engineering firm. Announced on 31 March 2010, it was expected to be completed by December 2011. The project came about after Mayor of London Boris Johnson and Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell decided in 2008 that the Olympic Park needed "something extra". Designers were asked for ideas for an "Olympic tower" at least 100 metres (330 ft) high: Orbit was the unanimous choice from proposals considered by a nine-person advisory panel. Kapoor and Balmond believed that Orbit represented a radical advance in the architectural field of combining sculpture and structural engineering, and that it combined both stability and instability in a work that visitors can engage with and experience via an incorporated spiral walkway. It has been both praised and criticised for its bold design, and has especially received criticism as a vanity project of questionable lasting use or merit as a public art project.

The project was expected to cost £19.1 million, with £16 million coming from Britain's then-richest man, the steel tycoon Lakshmi Mittal, Chairman of the ArcelorMittal steel company, and the balance of £3.1 million coming from the London Development Agency. The name "ArcelorMittal Orbit" combines the name of Mittal's company, as chief sponsor, with Orbit, the original working title for Kapoor and Balmond's design.

The ArcelorMittal Orbit temporarily closed after the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games while the South Plaza (in which Orbit is positioned) underwent reconstruction for its long-term legacy use as a public outdoor space. It re-opened to the public on 5 April 2014. The structure incorporates the world's tallest and longest (178 metres) tunnel slide, designed by Carsten Höller. The idea was originally envisioned by the London Legacy Development Corporation as a way to attract more visitors to the tower. The slide includes transparent sections to give a "different perspective" of the twisting red tower and was completed in June 2016. This follows an option to abseil down the tower, introduced in 2014.

History

According to London mayor Boris Johnson, in around October 2008 he and Tessa Jowell decided that the site in Stratford, London that was to become the Olympic Park for the 2012 Olympics needed "something extra" to "distinguish the East London skyline", and "arouse the curiosity and wonder of Londoners and visitors".

A design competition held in 2009 called for designs for an "Olympic tower". It received about 50 submissions. Johnson has said that his early concept for the project was something more modest than Orbit, along the lines of "a kind of 21st-century Trajan's Column", but this was dropped when more daring ideas were received.

The media reported unconfirmed details of the project in October 2009, describing the interest of the steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal, one of Britain's richest men, in funding a project that would cost around £15 million. Boris Johnson was believed to want something like the Eiffel Tower or the Statue of Liberty. At that time there were understood to be five artists being considered, including Antony Gormley. Early designs reportedly included 'Transmission' by Paul Fryer, a 400-foot (120 m) high structure "resembling a cross between a pylon and a native American totem pole", according to The Times. A spokesman for Johnson would only confirm that he was "keen to see stunning, ambitious, world-class art in the Olympic Park", and that work on commissioning the project was at an early stage.

Mittal's involvement came about after a chance meeting with Johnson in a cloakroom in Davos in January 2009, as they were on their way to separate dinner engagements. In a conversation that reportedly lasted 45 seconds Johnson pitched the idea to Mittal, who immediately agreed to supply the steel. Mittal later said of his involvement, "I never expected that this was going to be such a huge project. I thought it was just the supply of some steel, a thousand tonnes or so, and that would be it. But then we started working with artists and I realised that the object was not just to supply steel but to complete the whole project. It took us almost 15 months of negotiation and discussion." Johnson has said that, "In reality, ArcelorMittal has given much more than the steel."

Kapoor's and Balmond's Orbit was announced as the winner on 31 March 2010. According to The Guardian, Orbit was chosen from a short list of three, beating a design by Antony Gormley and one by the architectural firm Caruso St John. According to The Times, Gormley's design was a 390-foot (120 m) steel colossus titled Olympian Man, a trademark piece of a statue of himself, rejected mainly on the grounds of its projected cost, estimated at £40 million.

Johnson and Jowell agreed to issue a commission for Orbit in partnership with Mittal after it was chosen by a nine-person advisory panel brought together by them to advise on a long list of proposals. According to Mittal, the panel made a unanimous decision to pick Orbit, as it both represented the Olympic Games and was achievable within the ambitious time frame. Kapoor described it as "the commission of a lifetime".

Johnson pre-empted possible criticism 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. But both Tessa Jowell and I are certain that this is the right thing for the Stratford site, in Games time and beyond."

The completed structure was officially unveiled to the press and public on 11 May 2012.

An image of the structure was included in the 2015 design of the British passport.

The structure was re-purposed with the world's longest slide in 2016, as a way to attract more visitors.

Design

Designers

Orbit is described as "designed by Anish Kapoor and Cecil Balmond". Kapoor is a Turner Prize winning sculptor, while Balmond is one of the world's leading designers. According to Kapoor, both men are "interested in a place where architecture meets sculpture" and "the way that form and geometry give rise to structure". Kapoor and Balmond stated that their interests have blurred and crossed over into each other's fields since they first began working together in 2002 on Kapoor's Marsyas installation in the Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern. As well as Orbit, in 2010 Kapoor and Balmond were also working on the Tees Valley Giants, a public art project in northern England.

The sculpture was engineered by the Global engineer Arup, who developed the overall geometry, structural design and the building services including the lighting displayed extensively during the Olympic games. Architectural input by Kathryn Findlay (Ushida Findlay Architects, as a sub-consultant to Arup) made the sculpture into a functional building, for example designing the staircase.

Structural

ArcelorMittal Orbit, Olympic Park, Stratford, London29July2012
The ArcelorMittal Orbit during the 2012 Summer Olympics.

The organic design of Orbit demanded an extraordinary amount of structural engineering work. This was done by Arup, which reported that it took up two-thirds of the budget for the project (twice the percentage normally allotted to structural engineering in a building project).

From a structural point of view, Orbit consists of two parts:

  • the trunk – the more-or-less vertical tower which houses the elevators and stairs and supports the observation deck.
  • the red tube – an open lattice of red steel that surrounds the trunk.

The trunk has a base diameter of 37 metres (121 ft), narrowing to 5 metres (16 ft) on the way up, then widening again to 9.6 metres (31 ft) just under the observation deck. The trunk is supported and stabilized by the tube, which gives a structural character of a tripod to the entire construction. Further structural integrity is given to the construction by octagonal steel rings that surround the tube and trunk, spaced at 4 metres (13 ft) and cross-joined pairwise by sixteen diagonally mounted steel connectors.

A special part of the construction is the canopy, the conic shape that hangs off the bottom of the trunk. Originally planned as a fibreglass composite construction, costs forced the use of steel for this section as well. Centraalstaal was approached as a special consultant for the design of the steel cone and came up with a design for a cone built out of 117 individually shaped steel panels with a total surface area of 586 square metres. The entire cone weighs 84 tonnes.

Height

Early contradictory reports suggested the tower would be 120 metres (390 ft) tall. However, it finally measured in at 114.5 metres (376 ft) making it the UK's tallest sculpture, surpassing the 60-metre (200 ft) tall Aspire.

The Greater London Authority on announcing the project described Orbit's height in comparison with the Statue of Liberty, stating that it would be 22 metres (72 ft) taller – the Statue of Liberty is 93 metres (305 ft) high, including the 46-metre (151 ft) statue and its pedestal. The media picked up the apparent intention to cast the Orbit as London's answer to the Eiffel Tower, which is 324 metres (1,063 ft) tall. The Guardian related how it was "considerably shorter", also noting that it is even "20 metres (66 ft) shorter than the diminutive Blackpool Tower".

Its height was also compared in the media with other London landmarks. It was described as being "slightly taller" or "nearly 20 metres (66 ft) taller" than the Big Ben clock tower, the centrepiece of the Palace of Westminster. It was also described as being "twice as tall" or "more than double the height" of Nelson's Column, the monument honouring Admiral Nelson in Trafalgar Square. Other reports described how it was "just short of" or "almost as tall as" the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt, the ancient tomb of the Pharaoh Khufu. Big Ben is 96.3 metres (316 ft) tall, Nelson's Column is 51.5 metres (169 ft) tall, including statue and column. The Giza Pyramid was thought to have been constructed as 280 Egyptian cubits or 146.478 metres (480.57 ft) tall, although with erosion it has reduced in height by nearly 10 metres.

Construction

File ArcelorMittal Orbit - September11
Construction in September 2011.

Orbit is located in the southern area of the Olympic Park, between London Stadium and the Aquatics Centre. After the March 2010 confirmation of the winning design, construction began in November 2010; it reached its full height in November 2011.

Steel is the primary material used in the sculpture. According to Balmond, there was no feasible alternative, as steel was the only material that could give the minimum thickness and maximum strength represented in the coiling structure. It was built from approximately 2000 tonnes of steel, produced as much as possible from ArcelorMittal plants, with the exact sourcing being determined by the grades of steel required and the technical requirements of the project. Of this, 60% was recycled steel produced by the Esch Belval steel plant in Luxembourg.

On 14 March 2011, with construction already underway on the main pylon, The One Show broadcast footage of the on-site status of project, and profiled the four-man team putting it together, comprising two steel erectors, a crane operator and a site foreman.

Use

As an observation tower, Orbit has two indoor viewing platforms on two levels, with each level having capacity for 150 people. According to the Greater London Authority, the observation platform offers "unparalleled views of the entire 250 acres (1.0 km2; 0.39 sq mi) of the Olympic Park and London's skyline". According to The Independent, visitors should take the elevator to the top and descend the 455-step staircase; this should allow them to appreciate the views around which Anish Kapoor arranged the sculpture.

It is expected to cope with 700 visitors per hour. During the Olympic Games the entrance fee was £15 for adults and £7 for children. The tower does not include a dining area, however there is a cafe, shop and other facilities at the South Park Hub building, which opened in April 2014.

The ambition is that the sculpture, as well as being a focal point for the Olympic Park during the Games, will form part of the wider Stratford regeneration plans, which aim to turn the Olympic site into a permanent tourist destination after the Games. Tessa Jowell said Orbit will be "like to honey to bees for the millions of tourists that visit London each year". Boris Johnson predicted it would become "the perfect iconic cultural legacy". According to Lord Coe, chairman of the London 2012 Olympic organisers, it would play a central part in the Game's role of leaving a lasting legacy and transformed landscape in east London.

During the opening ceremony of the 2012 Summer Paralympics, Joe Townsend (a Royal Marine and double amputee) delivered the Paralympic flame into Olympic Stadium via a zipline that was attached to the top of Orbit.

In 2016, a permanent slide designed by German artist Carsten Höller was added to the sculpture. The slide is reported to be the world's tallest and longest tunnel slide at 178 metres. Though it was originally reported that admission to the slide would cost around £5, the general adult price for entry to the slide and orbital is currently £16.50, with additional rides costing £5 each.

Funding

At the time of its public launch, the total cost of Orbit was announced as £19.1m. ArcelorMittal was to fund up to £16m, with the remaining £3.1m being provided by the London Development Agency. This consists of a £10m cash donation, and £6 million in underwriting of capital costs, which could be potentially recovered from profits generated after the Games. According to Johnson, the cost of the project would be recouped after the games through the private hire of a dining area at the top, predicting it would become a "corporate money-making venture".

Mittal said he was immediately interested in Orbit after he remembered the excitement that surrounded the announcement that London had won the Olympic bid. He saw it as an opportunity to leave a lasting legacy for London, showcase the "unique qualities of steel" and play a role in the regeneration of Stratford. Mittal said of his involvement in the project, "I live in London – I’ve lived here since 1997 – and I think it’s a wonderful city. This project is an incredible opportunity to build something really spectacular for London, for the Olympic Games and something that will play a lasting role in the legacy of the Games."

Advisory panel member and director of the Tate gallery, Nicholas Serota, said Orbit was "the perfect answer to the question of how sport and art come together", and praised Mittal's "really impressive piece of patronage" for supporting a "great commission".

In October 2015 Len Duvall, a Labour member of the London Assembly, stated that the tower was losing £520,000 a year; LLDC said they had revised their visitor target from 350,000 to 150,000 per year.

Advisory panel

The advisory panel consisted of:

  • Nicholas Serota, director of the Tate gallery
  • Julia Peyton-Jones, director of the Serpentine Gallery
  • Hans-Ulrich Obrist, also of the Serpentine Gallery
  • Sarah Weir OBE, of the Olympic Delivery Authority
  • Stuart Lipton, of Chelsfield LLP
  • Anita Zabludowicz, of the 176 gallery Zabludowicz collection
  • Michael Morris and James Lingwood, directors of the Artangel arts commissioning organisation
  • Munira Mirza, the Mayoral Advisor on Arts and Culture

In announcing the winning design, Johnson thanked the Greater London Authority, the Olympic Delivery Authority and the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games, as well as David McAlpine and Philip Dilley of Arup, and Sir Robin Wales and Jules Pipe for their involvement and support in the project.

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