Jeez, where to start with the…

ArcelorMittal Orbit

How about the name?  Mostly huge faceless corporate sponsor followed by a name associated with chewing gum, but presumably intended to evoke the wizard 1950s New Elizabethan era.  What’s it got to do with space travel, though, beyond look like a rocket launch pad with some kind of crippling bone disease?

How about the engineering?  Well, it’s designed by Arups (good, usually), but, to my engineer’s mind lacks any sense of structure.  Too silly, if that’s the right word for 115m of crumpled steel.  Says ‘designed by computer’ rather than ‘designed by human’.  I like humans.  I also like efficiency and clever use of materials, and there’s a whole lot of the Orbit that I look at and go ‘what’s that doing other than holding itself up’?  Jobs for the boys expressed in girder form does nothing for me, but looking at the three beaming faces in Boris’s PR pic it seems to do it for the rich and powerful.

How about the spin?  Well, Boris says it’s ‘stunning’ and ‘iconic’.  Well, I’ll be the judge of that, and iconic is not a label you can attach to things, rather one that attaches itself – the two most iconic buildings built in London in the last decade or so are the London Eye and the Gherkin, after all (note how they always appear with St. Pauls, Tower Bridge and the Palace of Westminster clock tower on those abstract city skylines).  In fact, the rather stark and modern looking Orbit would arguably stand a reasonable chance of joining them if it wasn’t so difficult to draw – the Eye and the Gherkin are simple, curved shapes that abstract easily.  So’s the Routemaster, of course, or both the old and new Wembleys (the old slightly more than the new).  Therefore I humbly submit from my non-artists point of view that a simple shape with a few curves is a good start if you’re in the icon business, rather than some finely engineered computer wizardry that looks like it should fall over.  Far from being, in the perennial Daily Mail view ‘something a six year old could draw’ an icon pretty much *needs* to be something a six year old can draw if it’s to succeed.

How about the reaction – I’ve been quite surprised by the number of eminent bloggers who’ve taken time off to have a crack at analysing it.  Perhaps it’s the bred-in-the-bone fascination with egotistical leaders and towers, going back to the Tower of Babel times, but mainly it seems to be the resemblance to viscera that excites them.  I follow some odd bloggers, then.  Here’s Charlie Whitaker at AFOE:

Finally, and worst of all, the ArcelorMittal Orbit is literally repulsive; it’s blood red; it looks biological, like intestines. Here, we leave the Atomium far behind: the Atomium doesn’t disgust. I don’t want to speculate on human psychology but it’s conceivable that disgust responses are ‘hardwired’, as they say. If this is so, then even if the current cohort learns to love the ArcelorMittal Orbit, having mastered its own shock reaction, there’ll be future generations who’ll be disposed to hate it.

And Jamie Kenny at Blood & Treasure:

There used to be a medieval torture whereby the victims intestines were cut and slowly wound out on to a bobbin in front of his eyes. If you took the results of that as a scale model, upended it and produced a giant version in tubular steel, then the Orbit is what you would have.

Needless to say, I like it. I think London needs a 115 metre tall representation of a pile of bleeding, pulpy intestines in a park overlooking the Thames, a sort of colossal agonised scream as the collective voice of the metropolis.

Finally the architecturists on my Twitter feed had a collective fit, and they’re supposed to like big ugly showoffy modernist stuff.  From the seething keyboard of Hugh Pearman:

It looks as if Boris Johnson, the London mayor, wanted a big televisual image for the 2012 Olympics and did not find it in the architecture of the sporting venues

As Caro found with his “sculpitecture” experiments years ago, it’s one thing to allow people to clamber over your work, quite another to make it genuinely habitable. Suddenly you’re up against Building Regulations, Health and Safety, the full panoply of specialist consultants. It’s death to art, really, and you see art dying here. Just take a close look at Kapoor’s model and look at the stairs spiralling up it. Those are building-regulations stairs with the regulation landings, not a sculptor’s idea of stairs. There’s a lift shaft: it has to be vertical and the rest of the asymmetric composition, which appears to lean, has to be wrestled to make that vertical element possible. The observation deck is a little building – but sculptors don’t do buildings, and engineers have no flair for them. So it’s an out-take from all those cheesy communications towers around the world with revolving restaurants on top.

It is highly ironic that Boris, the great libertarian hater of ski helmets, red lights, CCTV and the panoply of the big state should have his monstrous erection subverted by the faceless conformism of the dreaded Health and Safety.  Much better to have put up a Skylon or something equally unclimbable and thus untainted by political correctness.  Oh, hang on, the Skylon was a horrible technocratic socialist contraption, wasn’t it?

Back to the drawing board, please.

P.S. Boris’s newly interactive twitter account sought RTs and opinions on the contraption from the following accounts:

  • creativereview
  • tate
  • designmuseum
  • barbicancentre
  • southbankcentre
  • ICALondon
  • RSAEvents
  • royalacademy
  • MadamMiaow
  • culturelabel

A lot of Zone 1 galleries, arts institutions and other left wing tat, and one left wing blogger and broadcaster (why was she singled out, anyway?).  Won’t someone think of the poor suburbs?

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