For over a century, the Olympic games have been regarded as the world's most prestigious international sporting event, beckoning top athletes from 204 countries to fight for the gold medal. In recent years, however, the architecture within the Olympics parks has been just as competitive as the sporting events themselves! The London Eye, one of the England's most beloved landmarks, has a new rival in town designed for the 2012 Summer Olympics. Soaring 377 feet in height into the air, the ArcellorMittal Orbit will provide unparalleled views of the London skyline while representing the progressive ideology of art, design, and innovation of one of the world's largest metropolitan areas.
Named the “mutant child of the Eiffel and Tatlin Towers,” the ArcellorMittal Orbit pushes the boundaries of a traditional vertical observation tower. While most viewing decks extend linearly into the sky, Orbit twists around and into itself, enveloping visitors as they move up and down the structure. Anish Kapoor and Cecil Balmond, the primary project architects, convey their inspiration for the project as the sense of “building the impossible.” While the 1,840 feet of curved steel is intended to give visitors a sense of instability, the elevator and 455 step spiral staircase highlight the circulation path as a constant element within the chaos.
Acting as a continuously looping lattice, the eight strands of steel wind into one another to create five voids symbolizing the five Olympic rings. Though some believe that steel was chosen as the primary construction material after Lakshmi Mittal, Britain's wealthiest steel tycoon, willingly funded the project, the architects believe there was no alternative; steel was the only material that could offer a minimum thickness and maximum strength. Weighing in at an excess of 2,000 tons, there is no question that Orbit represents a radical advance in the architectural field of integrating sculpture and structural engineering. The complex geometry of the loops not only supports itself, but bears some of the weight of a two-story dining area and indoor observation platform designed to accommodate 300 visitors.
While the coiled structure was designed to signify the strength, courage, and ambition of the city of London, the architects believe it also acts as a creative representation of the physical and emotional effort that Olympians undertake in their drive to succeed. There is no doubt that the ArcellorMittal Orbit will leave a lasting legacy after the Olympic games are complete, prompting strong reactions from East London residents, Olympic visitors, and architectural critics alike.