The Orbit Tower

orbit tower design
The Orbit Tower – a red squiggle of steel

The Orbit Tower, is a new art work by Anish Kapoor. It will dominate the Olympic Park in East London long after 2012 but it will be at least 2 more years before it re-opens to the general public. The tower will provide an amazing view of London and what promises to be a ‘startling and disorientating’ experience for visitors.
This was how the tower started life, as a few squiggles.

Over the last year I’ve watched it become a ‘love it or hate it’ landmark on the local skyline.

The Orbit Tower, a personal response from East London

I’ve watched the Orbit Tower rise over the Olympic site at Stratford in East London and found that I have very mixed feelings about it. I normally love Anish Kapoor’s work but with this one I’m just not convinced. I’m torn between admiring it and feeling like it was a quickly dashed off design with no thought of, or consultation with, the local community.

The Orbit Tower from the train on a grey day

There is the worrying resemblance to a hooka pipe for starters. Is Kapoor playing with us? The hooka is much in evidence in this area of London, even following the smoking ban. There are lots of places that advertise hooka gardens where people can smoke these scented pipes outside (mostly in tented areas- this is rainy London!). Once you’ve seen the resemblance it is quite hard to ignore the reference. Having something that looks like a giant red hooka dominating the local skyline does seem a slightly odd statement. No one asked the people of East London if this was what they wanted to represent their city or to be a lasting memorial.
I also worry that it is too much like a fairground attraction. I’ve heard children on the train asking when they can go on the giant helter-skelter and who can blame them? There will be an element of this sort of sensational experience about the tower, as there is with many other Kapoor pieces. Kapoor delights in the disorientating effects the tower can produce in visitors and this leads to another problem.
It is designed to be experienced rather than just seen and yet for many locals that it will simply not be possible. Unless you have games tickets ( and that is a whole other story!) you cannot access the site this summer. The whole site will then close for 2 years during which time the fate of the park and the various buildings, including the Orbit Tower, will be decided. So for most of those of us who live in East London the tower will be a visual rather than a physical experience.
Looking at the tower as a purely visual construction I feel less than convinced. I like the red steel construction but for me the grey of the metal inner core rather spoils the effect. The red steel works well against a blue sky but for much of the year this image of the tower from a passing train, against a leaden grey backdrop is how many people will see the tower.
I’d much rather have seen something by Anthony Gormley. To me this is no where near as impressive as the Angel of the North or even Event Horizion. Kapoor has done much better and more interesting work in other cities so I’m left wondering why London has ended up with this.

London’s Eiffel Tower?

The Orbit Tower seems to provoke a strong response in most people. Most Parisians hated the Eiffel Tower when it was first built but now it is the most iconic symbol of Paris and universally admired. Could the same thing happen here?

Will the Orbit Tower become London’s Eiffel Tower, the new international symbol of London?

Or will it become a huge white elephant stranded in the middle of a no-go park area where no one will want to go after the games?

Will tourists be standing in line just to photograph the Orbit Tower in 50 years time? Source – my original image taken April 2007

Flickr: Orbit Tower

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