Boris’s Olympic-sized folly

When I twigged the other week that the Olympic Stadium can now be seen clearly from Greenwich Park, I almost squealed with delight. It’s not immediately obvious, but if you look over to the right hand side, there it is, among all the other 2012 building sites. Seeing the giant thing from the A11 is one thing, but clocking it on your own doorstep is something else.

But that fine view’s going to be disfigured by something called the ArcelorMittal Orbit.

As ugly as its stupid sponsored name, this thing’s going to leer over the Olympic Park and get in the way of the fine views from this side of the river. I can’t help thinking of the rows two decades ago when Canary Wharf got approval and campaigners said it’d disfigure the Greenwich skyline. This isn’t much better.

Some £16m of the £19.1m cost will come from said sponsors (the steel magnates, not the chewing gum) – the other £3m comes from us. Great.

“Designed by artist Anish Kapoor and structural engineer Cecil Balmond, the 115 metre-tall red steel tower will dominate the east London landscape and become, it is hoped, a permanent visitor attraction for generations to come.” (more)

Maybe… maybe I’ll be wrong and in two years it’ll look awesome. But I doubt it. Red will make it look rusty. You can see enough steel on the skyline most days with all the cranes around – it’ll just get lost among construction sites. And it’s horrible curved shape makes it look a bit like a curled-up turd propped up with a stick. Or is it the mayor’s colon? What the bleedin’ heck is Boris thinking?

“Some may choose to think of it as a Colossus of Stratford, some eyes may detect a giant treble clef, a helter-skelter, a supersized mutant trombone. Some may even see the world’s biggest ever representation of a shisha pipe and call it the Hubble Bubble. But I know it is the ArcelorMittal Orbit and it represents the dynamism of a city coming out of recession, the embodiment of the cross-fertilisation of cultures and styles that makes London the world capital of arts and culture.”

Err…. no, I’ll stick with the colon, actually. But the last time someone tried to impose a poor man’s Eiffel Tower on London, it didn’t work – the cautionary tale of Watkin’s Folly, an attempt by railway magnate Edward Watkin to outdo the French and sell a few more tickets on the Metropolitan Line. Wembley Stadium now sits on the site. And finding a use for the Olympic Stadium itself is going to be fraught enough without worrying whether Boris’s Colon will still be bringing in the punters come 2013.

And is it me, or would this thing get slated if it was proposed for west London? But now it’s scheduled for Stratford, the east London proles will just have to learn to love it because it’ll be somehow “good” for them.

These things can hang around to haunt you too. As a man born in New York, Boris Johnson should also be familiar with one of the crumbling remnants of the 1964 World’s Fair at Flushing Meadows – the New York State Pavillion, barely touched for 46 years after the global expo shut its doors. If London’s 2012 adventure goes awry, will we want a bloody great big reminder of it on the skyline? I doubt it.

While I’m largely behind our 2012 adventure, seeing a photo of a grinning Boris with Tessa Jowell and a model of this thing made me wonder – do any of us get the chance to say if we want to look at this thing every day for the rest of our lives in south-east or east London? Boris’s Colon could well be the most glaring example yet of what happens when Olympic planners get to ride roughshod over what real communities think.

Unless, of course, you like it…


  1. As they have long said, there is no arguing with taste. I really, really like it. I look forward to seeing it poking above a nearby rooftop some time soon.

    Plenty of people are going to hate it but that is always the way with these things. It comes down to your own subjective aesthetic preferences.

    Thanks for posting the photo so I could spend another 20 seconds looking at it and thinking… how awesome! 🙂

  2. I’m pretty non-plussed by the design personally. It’s just a bit… dull.

    Mind you I quite like seeing Canary Wharf from Greenwich Park (and from my window) now, so maybe this will grow on me as well.

  3. I like it too. And I liked the Wheel and the Gherkin and the Millennium Bridge and the Angel of the North as soon as I saw the pics (but I always thought the Dome was lame). You’ll come around.

  4. Well you can go up it, so maybe the views from rather than of are the best bit.

  5. It looks a bit bombastic for my tastes, but I have seen worse public art (Kissing Couple at St Pancras being the worst in London so far, in my view). It’s the Arcelor Mittal bit that’s really depressing.

  6. It could well look impressive close up, granted, but it’ll look awful from a distance. It all feels a bit rushed-through.

    The sponsors’ name is truly depressing. At least with the Dome you can ignore the branding if you want.

  7. It’s not my cup of tea at all. I agree that today Canary Wharf and the Eye have become irreplaceable parts of the London skyline, and I rather like them. The design for this though just seems quite confused. It might work on a smaller scale, but I think it’s just going to look dis-jointed and quite ugly. The Olympic stadium itself will be the attraction, not this ‘structure’. I really doubt visitors will visit Stratford to specially see it. Hmm maybe I’m just old-fashioned and will grow to like it. Time will tell.

  8. I’m also a fan! i think it’s going to be pretty iconic. Along with the buildings for the events I expect this will feature in a lot of shots in summer 2012.

  9. I don’t think the sponsor’s name should be a problem. It will probably just be known in every day parlance as the Orbit. I think British Airways originally sponsored the London Eye but nobody really referred to it in those terms. Put me down as a “quite like it” !

  10. Phew I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks it’s a big pile of poo. I would have favoured something much simpler – it’s not the height I object to, it’s the over the top complexity of the structure. The wheel, gherkin, Angel and even the Millennium Bridge have nice simple, readable forms. This is the steel equivalent of a big frilly dress in my opinion.

  11. I saw it yesterday for the first time and my initial thought was that it was, frankly, dreadful.

    A few more looks and a day later, I haven’t changed my mind – I teach 8-year olds and I’m not even joking when I say this is what some of my weaker children would come up with.

    Surely there’s got to be some sort of public consultation on this, they can’t just stick it up, can they? I don’t agree with a lot of what Ken Livingstone says, but he’s on the money when he said that he didn’t think Boris would be too keen on it in Islington.

  12. I find it hard to see this becoming an iconic attraction like the Eye or the Angel of the North. Its not aethetically pleasing, and as it lacks beauty, would need to be at lest twice the planned size to hit the “impressive” scale.

    I also can’t understand how using this much steel for no great purpose fits with London Olympics objective of bing the most environmentally sustainable games.

    Could it be that the advisory panel were swayed in their decision by the level of sponsorship attached to this design ?

    Despite the big names behind it , I hink iit does a diservice to east London. Lets hope someone is brave enouh to kill iit off before its built.

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