Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Orbit tower: Olympic Park's red 'roller coaster'

By Bryony Jones, CNN
August 2, 2012 -- Updated 1104 GMT (1904 HKT)
The Orbit Tower at London's Olympic Park was unveiled by the city's mayor Boris Johnson.
The Orbit Tower at London's Olympic Park was unveiled by the city's mayor Boris Johnson.
HIDE CAPTION
Orbit sculpture unveiled at Olympic Park
Orbit sculpture unveiled at Olympic Park
Orbit sculpture unveiled at Olympic Park
Orbit sculpture unveiled at Olympic Park
Orbit sculpture unveiled at Olympic Park
Orbit sculpture unveiled at Olympic Park
Orbit sculpture unveiled at Olympic Park
Orbit sculpture unveiled at Olympic Park
Orbit sculpture unveiled at Olympic Park
Orbit sculpture unveiled at Olympic Park
Orbit sculpture unveiled at Olympic Park
Orbit sculpture unveiled at Olympic Park
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Orbit, designed by Anish Kapoor and Cecil Balmond, at heart of Olympic Park
  • Tower stands 114.5m tall, making it Britain's tallest sculpture
  • Structure is built from 2,000 tons of steel and covered in 19,000 liters of red paint
  • Flight of 455 steps lead to viewing platform offering views across London

London (CNN) -- It may look more amusement park than Olympic Park, but the twisting red metal tower at the heart of the London 2012 Games site is no helter-skelter -- it's a massive piece of contemporary art named the Orbit.

The sculpture, created by artist Anish Kapoor and designer Cecil Balmond, has become a common sight on televisions across the globe in recent days, snaking up through the sky alongside the Olympic Stadium.

But while many visitors to the park have been happy to study the swirling structure from the ground, or to ride to the top and enjoy the sweeping views it offers across London, others aren't so sure.

"I think it's amazing, it looks like a roller coaster," Raven, an 11-year-old local schoolgirl, told CNN on her first visit to the tower.

"It's so ugly it becomes interesting," another Olympics fan said this week after visiting the sculpture.

Watch London's Olympic tower rise
Beautiful time-lapse of Olympic Stadium
London builds to Games thriller
Olympic park transforms London's East End

Earlier this year when the Orbit was first unveiled, London's mayor claimed it was better than the Eiffel Tower.

Boris Johnson said the artwork, which rises up next to the Olympic Stadium at Stratford in the city's East End was "a masterpiece of design and engineering."

"It endlessly repays the viewer, it is a very rewarding thing to look at. The Eiffel Tower is very simple, the Shard, behind me, is a piece of cake -- any child of two could do that -- this is much more elaborate, more sophisticated, more intriguing and complex," he told CNN.

The tower stands 114.5 meters (375 feet) tall, making it Britain's biggest sculpture, more than twice the height of Nelson's Column, almost six times the height of the Angel of the North, and 22 meters taller than the Statue of Liberty.

Visitors climb 455 steps -- or ride one of two elevators -- to two observation decks offering expansive vistas across London.

Johnson and Lakshmi Mittal, CEO of steelmaker ArcelorMittal, joined forces to champion the creation of a large-scale sculpture at the Olympic Park -- after meeting in a cloakroom at Davos.

"It started as a small project, a casual discussion." Mittal told CNN in May. "It was just a scribble on a piece of paper. But it expanded and expanded into this exciting project."

MATT BARRINGER, CNN

Mittal's company stumped up more than £19 million ($30 million) of the £24 million cost of the structure, providing steel from their plants across the globe.

"The Olympics are a global games -- the whole world participates, 202 countries. ArcelorMittal has businesses in so many countries around the world and so I wanted every one to participate," he said.

Kapoor and Balmond won a competition to design the piece, and have watched it rise from the one-time wasteland, as the Olympic venues around it have also taken shape.

Kapoor said the initial brief called for a tower on the Olympic site, "100 meters tall, or more, and we've done more," explaining that the work "questions the concept of what towers can be."

LAUREN SAID-MOORHOUSE, for CNN

"As you walk up, around and through it, it's as if the object is happening around you," he said when the sculpture was completed, adding that the Orbit "demands, requires, needs public participation."

"It's all about being here, being involved," he told CNN.

The artist conceded that the £15 entry fee (£7 for children) was high, but said it had been an expensive project, and that he hoped it would eventually be free, allowing more people to visit.

Designer Balmond said the pair intended the sculpture to last far longer than the few weeks of the Olympic Games.

"We hope it will be a monument for London, that will stand for 50 years -- though it might need a paint job by then -- and that it will be a beacon, drawing people to the area."

Kapoor said he was ready for criticism: "When you add such a big edifice to London's skyline, necessarily, people will scrutinize it, and some will be critical, and that's part of the process. We will see..."

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
August 13, 2012 -- Updated 1353 GMT (2153 HKT)
The moment that Team GB's Mo Farah won the 10,000 meters was a wonderful collision of electricity.
August 13, 2012 -- Updated 1534 GMT (2334 HKT)
His blistering pace and larger-than-life antics made him the king of the track in London, and bolstered his claims to be a "living legend."
August 14, 2012 -- Updated 0944 GMT (1744 HKT)
Disappointment for Nigeria's Muizat Ajoke Odumosu, who came last in the 400m hurdles final, London 2012 Olympics.
The Olympics are generally won and lost long before the opening ceremony cauldron is touched by fire.
August 12, 2012 -- Updated 0738 GMT (1538 HKT)
Fans of the home side, Team GB, wave Union Jack flags during the Olympic Games
CNN's Richard Quest believes the London Games will be regarded as having brought the Olympics concept home.
August 11, 2012 -- Updated 1633 GMT (0033 HKT)
Strategist Alastair Campbell says he never imagined London 2012 would be quite the triumph it turned out to be.
August 14, 2012 -- Updated 2057 GMT (0457 HKT)
Award-winning director Danny Boyle celebrates the best of British music in London 2012's Olympic Closing Ceremony.
January 31, 2013 -- Updated 1452 GMT (2252 HKT)
From Usain Bolt's record-setting achievements to an unexpected Ugandan gold, London 2012 has provided a wide array of highlights.
August 13, 2012 -- Updated 0305 GMT (1105 HKT)
CNN's Amanda Davies recaps the London 2012 Olympics from the opening ceremony on July 27 to the finale on day 16.
August 12, 2012 -- Updated 1702 GMT (0102 HKT)
Mo Farah and Usain Bolt celebrate their success at the London 2012 Olympic Games by copying each other's
It's been just over two weeks since the Queen parachuted into London's Olympic Stadium, her apricot dress flapping in the breeze.
August 15, 2012 -- Updated 1214 GMT (2014 HKT)
When the world's top marathon runners bid to win Olympic gold, they would do well to draw inspiration from one of the greatest athletes in the history of track and field.
August 11, 2012 -- Updated 1633 GMT (0033 HKT)
Team GB supporters with their faces painted in Union Jack designs at the Olympic Stadium in London.
Alastair Campbell always thought London 2012 would be a success, but never imagined it would be quite the triumph it has turned out to be.
August 10, 2012 -- Updated 1021 GMT (1821 HKT)
Adrien Niyonshuti is unlikely to win an Olympic medal, and he will do well to even finish his event, but his story is surely one of the most inspirational.
August 10, 2012 -- Updated 1605 GMT (0005 HKT)
The colors of the Olympic Rings at the Olympic Park in Stratford, east London, August 2012.
Olympic fever has cheered up London and made it a more welcoming place, but will optimism be one of the legacies of the Games?
August 10, 2012 -- Updated 1825 GMT (0225 HKT)
Wojdan Shaherkani's Olympic debut was short, but sweet -- the Saudi judoka said competing at the Games was
London 2012 is the first Olympics to feature women in every national team, with Jacques Rogge hailing a "major boost for gender equality."
August 10, 2012 -- Updated 0040 GMT (0840 HKT)
An impoverished South Korean gymnast has not only struck Olympic gold, but also reaped a $444,000 donation in a veritable rags to riches tale.
August 9, 2012 -- Updated 0046 GMT (0846 HKT)
Britain's hero Jessica Ennis is set to cash in after winning heptathlon gold, but the poster girl of the 2012 Olympics says fame is not her motivation.
August 8, 2012 -- Updated 0746 GMT (1546 HKT)
China is rallying around fallen hurdler Liu Xiang after he failed to make it past the first-round heat for a second consecutive Olympics.
August 3, 2012 -- Updated 1930 GMT (0330 HKT)
The first woman to win Olympic gold almost died in a plane crash, but remarkably returned to run again for the U.S. in 1936.
August 7, 2012 -- Updated 1504 GMT (2304 HKT)
Don Paige could not bear to watch the race he knew he could win. The 1980 Moscow Olympics were the death of a dream for many athletes.
August 4, 2012 -- Updated 1421 GMT (2221 HKT)
Ricardo Blas Jr
While Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt grab the headlines, little-known athletes from around the world keep alive the original spirit of the Olympics.
Athletes spend years eating the right foods ... and then must resist the free fast food in the Olympic village. How do they do it?
ADVERTISEMENT