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The ArcelorMittal Orbit, London

Entwining Tower of ArcelorMittal

The ArcelorMittal Orbit is an observation tower located in the heart of London's Olympic Park and stands at almost 4,500 feet tall. The sculpture was designed by the Indian sculptor Anish Kapoor and British designer Cecil Balmond, where it signifies 'architecture meets sculpture'. Visitors to the tower will ascend via an elevator in the core to enjoy the joy observation deck at the top. The platform will afford panoramic views of up to 20 miles encompassing the entire Olympic Park and London's skyline beyond.

'ArcelorMittal' is the world's leading steel and mining company guided by a philosophy to produce safe and sustainable steel. It is the leading supplier of quality steel products in all major markets including automotive, construction, household appliances and packaging. ArcelorMittal operates in 60 countries and employ about 260,000 people worldwide. Mr. Lakshmi Niwas Mittal is the Chairman and CEO of ArcelorMittal and ranked as the sixth richest person in the world by Forbes in 2011. In 2009, ArcelorMittal had revenues of $65.1 billion and crude steel production of 73.2 million tonnes, representing approximately 8 per cent of world steel output.

Unusual structure

Back in 2009, in a cloakroom at the World Economic Forum in Davos, the Mayor of London Boris Johnson presented his idea of an Olympic park steel sculpture to Lakshmi N. Mittal, who was excited and since 1997 living in London Mr. Mittal saw it as a perfect opportunity to create something spectacular for the capital of Britain and for the London Olympic and Paralympic Games 2012. Further a competition was organized around 50 submissions; a judging panel chose the design of the artist Anish Kapoor and structural engineer Cecil Balmond to be converted into London's lasting Olympic legacy.

The design was tracked up from a design competition launched by Mr Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London to create "something extra" to celebrate London Olympics 2012. "Designers were asked for ideas for an 'Olympic tower' at least 100 m high and Orbit was the unanimous choice from proposals considered by a nine-person advisory panel. From the initial sketch, it has grown into a looping lattice form. The lattice evolved from the need to build the vision and make the concept constructible".

Ushida Findlay Architects (UFA) was appointed by Arup to realize the architectural elements of the ArcelorMittal Orbit. The firm was responsible to make a turning tower as one of the world's tallest sculptures into a 'habitable building'. UFA's most visible contribution to the tower is the emergency stair design. In the initial concept sketches; the external helical stair was purely functional in form, expressing the flights and landing through a transparent enclosure. UFA explored the idea of creating a more sculptural form for the stair, designing a sinuous curve that articulates the visitor journey from the observation deck to ground level. The stair's expanded stainless steel mesh creates a 3-dimensional pattern that changes in opacity depending on the viewing angle and the density of the apertures, which become more open in the upper section of the panels.

Construction Challenges

The on-site construction team consisted of only 4 to 6 erectors, among them a project engineer from ArcelorMittal who had accompanied the project from the start. The structure was bolted together on site and the heavy pieces were lifted by a crane.

The construction of the Arcelor Mittal Orbit was accompanied by many technical challenges. As an artistic sculpture with its asymmetric forms, no piece was identical and that's why various design or construction problems were encountered that usually do not appear in architecture.

The steel structure was completed at the end of October 2011, after about a year of construction. With a total height of 114.5 m it is Britain's highest sculpture and 22 m higher than the Statue of Liberty in New York City. The structure contains 366 star nodes, each of them 4m tall and a total of 35,000 bolts were used to connect the structure. 19 000 litres of red paint (RAL 3003) gives the ArcelorMittal Orbit its characteristic colour.

In order to make the structure steadier; a tune mass damper is used 2 lumps of steel are hung as a 2, 8m pendulum from a frame. The pendulum weighs 40 tonnes in relation to the 1000 tonnes of the entire sculpture.

The steel used for the tubular structure is grade S355J2H but ArcelorMittal also provided steel plates, bars, beams, rods and wires for the foundation and other parts of this sculpture. The internal core is composed by Indaten weathering steel panels with thicknesses from 10-20 mm. These panels were produced by Industeel Belgium and also part of the ArcelorMittal Group.

The ArcelorMittal Orbit is a unique creation somewhere between sculpture and architecture. Its design being a challenge for most sophisticated engineering. As an observation tower and piece of art it will attract both Londoners and visitors far beyond the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, remembering this global event and enriching the city's skyline.

Core Description

The Orbit has two observation floors; a 455-step spiral staircase and a lift and restaurant. At ground level visitors are greeted by a massive steel horn which hangs overhead. The uppermost observation floor is flanked by two concave mirrors which disorientate the visitor before they get to see the skyline beyond. Visitors will be able to go up the 35-storey structure in a lift. At 114.5, the Orbit gives panoramic views across London's skyline of up to 20 miles. After their visit, visitors have the option to descend via the 455 steps that were designed to make the visitors feel as if they were orbiting around the structure. The exterior of the structure is outfitted with 250 colour spotlights. Each can be individually controlled to produce a stunning digital combination of static and animated effects including a 15 minute moving light show every evening after the Games.

Triune Structure

The structure of Orbit consists of the following three parts.

  • The central tower, which houses the elevators and stairs and supports the observation deck.
  • The open lattice of red steel that surrounds the trunk.
  • The external helical stair

The central tower has a base diameter of 37m, reduced to 5m near the top, and widening again to 9.6m, just under the observation deck. The trunk is supported and stabilized by the looping lattice tube, which gives a structural character of a tripod to the entire construction. Further structural integrity is given to the construction by octagonal steel rings that surround the tube and trunk, spaced at 4m and cross-joined pair wise by sixteen diagonally mounted steel connectors.

A special part of the construction is the canopy, the conic shape that hangs off the bottom of the trunk. Originally, it was planned as a fibreglass composite construction. Consideration of cost resulted in the use of steel for this section also. Centraalstaal International, Netherlands (Steel Company) was approached as a special consultant for the design of the steel cone and came up with a design for a cone built out of 117 individually shaped steel panels with a total surface area of 586 m2 and weighing 84 tonnes.

Design, Construction and Modelling

The design and construction process was itself almost a monument to its time. Its sophisticated computational design is described by Bosia as 'a systematic, forensic, real-time "form-finding" process capable of stretching the structure to its limits through the use of custom-made, parametric design and analysis tools developed by the team'. GSA was used for the structural analysis while steelwork manufacturer Watsons used Tekla solid modelling software to calculate section sizes.

The design and build procurement process is also very much of its time. 'We defined the design intent for each connection,' says Holger Falter of Arup. 'No drawings were provided,' he adds but Watsons rose to the challenge and worked with what seemed impossible tolerances. 'This wouldn't have been possible 20 years ago,' says ArcelorMittal's chief project engineer, Pierre Engel. The Orbit appears more virile and expressive rather than graceful, yet its anthropomorphic qualities and elegant interventions will make it a fitting addition to the Olympic Park.

Steel as Sustainable Material

Construction of the ArcelorMittal Orbit took 18 months and required 560 m of tubular steel to form the sculpture's lattice superstructure. A four-man team assembled it together, comprising two steel erectors, a crane operator and a site foreman. All of the junctions between the big red bits of steelwork are wild with unpredictable shapes and members coming in all directions. The result was a bold statement of public art. It is important to note that the tower is both permanent and sustainable with close to 60% of the 2,000 tonnes of steel used coming from recycled sources (harnessed from every continent where ArcelorMittal has operations). This tower cum sculpture underlines steel's status as the world's most recyclable material. Steel was chosen for the Orbit because of its unique properties including strength, modular structure and advantages of weight, speed of construction, and recyclability.

2000 tons of steel from ArcelorMittal plants around the world, more than 60% of it has come from recycled material. The tower's structure consists of a continuous looping lattice of tubes and is built using ArcelorMittal steels. Although most of it was produced in the company's western European plants, a token quantity of steel was brought from plants on every continent ArcelorMittal is present with the aim of embracing the Olympic spirit as a global event.

One of the most important requirements of the Olympic Delivery Authority was the use of at least 50% of recycled material for the construction of the Olympic installations. In order to meet the requirements more than 60% of the steels of the Orbit were produced from recycled steel in the Electric Arc Furnaces at the company's plants in Esch-Belval, Luxembourg and Sestao, Spain proving the unique property of steel to be permanently recyclable and effectively recycled.

Architecture and Sculpture

The main interest of Kapoor and Balmond are geometry and forms and how these can give rise to structures their very different backgrounds make them see it from 2 different perspectives. While architecture is still mainly seen sectional, sculpture includes the 3rd dimension and in the Orbit combines both. The dimensions of this sculpture and its completely asymmetric form require high tech engineering. Still, it was the aim of both its creators that structures should have a sense of poetry: People should forget about the engineering and material used in the construction - and simple "experience" it as a piece of art.

The realization of this ambitious project was made possible on the one hand by the engineers and technical experts from ARUP and on the other hand by Ushida & Findlay architects who completed the design in order to make it a public building complying with the building and safety regulations. Furthermore, it was Kathryn Findlay's task to find the fundamental balance between the Orbit's artistic vision and architectural practicality.

Undigested Success about Orbit

Arcelormittal Orbit Cecil Balmond said; he and Anish were conscious from the beginning that the ArcelorMittal Orbit would be a lasting legacy to the city and they wanted to stretch the language of the icon as far they could go reach for its fame. The Orbit structure is a hybrid, a network of art and its dynamic is the non-linear. You read into it multiple narratives in space." Towers are almost always symmetrical," he continued, saying the Orbit's twisted loops were "the refusal of a singular image". Kapoor and Balmond believe that Orbit represents a radical advance in the architectural field of combining sculpture, structural engineering and that it combines both stability and instability in a work that visitors can engage with experience via an incorporated spiral walkway.

The design of the Orbit has split opinions since its inception at a chance meeting between London Mayor Boris Johnson and steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal in a cloakroom at the 2009 World Economic Forum in Davos. Critics have described the orbit as 'the Eiffel Tower after a nuclear attack and a catastrophic collision between two cranes'. He objected the way it towers over the stadium, saying that the 2,000-tonne structure compared unfavourably to the lightweight construction of the venues in the Olympic park.

Funding the Structure

ArcelorMittal, the sponsor of the tower and the Olympics, is a leading steel manufacturer and provided the material for the sculpture. It provided £19.2m towards the cost of building the Orbit with the remaining £3.1m was funded by London Development Agency. The tower is expected to attract 1 million visitors per year to Stratford's Olympic Park, when it was reopened as the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park after the Games. During the Games, the ticket price is fixed as £15 for adults and £7 for children.

Integration of architectural elements

Although the London practice's remit included the design of the entrance pavilion; the plant compound, a ramp and a high-level external walkway, its overarching brief was to ensure that public spaces were not only habitable but also comfortable and fully integrated with the overall design effectively transforming the sculpture into an accessible architectural experience.

Ushida Findlay project architect Thomas Van Hoffelen explains that the architectural components are combined with the principal structure through the use of 'contrasting geometries'. The use of finishes and textures also serve this end. Stainless steel expanded metal with a graded opacity has been used to clad the staircase and ramp, leaving the ruby red steelwork visually intact.

Creative Minds

Anish Kapoor

Anish Kapoor one of the most popular leading artists was born in Bombay, India and studied in London.  He is well- known for his use of rich pigment and impose brilliant works such as Marsyas, which filled the Tate's Turbine Hall as part of the Unilever Series, Cloud Gate in Chicago's Millennium Park (popularly known as 'The Bean') and his recent record breaking show at the Royal Academy, the most successful exhibition ever presented by a contemporary artist in London.

Cecil BalmondCecil Balmond

Cecil BalmondCecil Balmond is a Sri Lankan-British born talented architect. He is also an artists, writer and professor. He has taught at Harvard and currently holds Paul Philippe Cret Chair at Penn Design as Professor of Architecture where he is also the founding director of the Non Linear Systems Organization, a material and structural research unit. He was also deputy chairman at Arup (Arup are behind landmark buildings such as the Sydney Opera House, Beijing's Water Cube and the Beijing Olympic Stadium). He is known for his innovative work on some of the greatest contemporary buildings in the world such as the CCTV building in Beijing, as well as many Serpentine Gallery Pavilion commissions. He was appointed Officer for the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2015, New Year Honors for services to architecture.

Some Highlights about ArcelorMittal Orbit

  • Tallest sculpture in the U.K.
  • Standing at 115 m, it is 22 m taller than the Statue of Liberty in New York.
  • If the loops around it are flattened out and the tower is made vertical, it will be taller than Eiffel tower in Paris.
  • Provides unparalleled views of the entire 250 acres of the Olympic Park and London's skyline from a special viewing platform.
  • Over 35,000 bolts and 19,000 liters of red paint were used in its construction.
  • Designed by Artist Anish Kapoor and Cecil Balmond
  • Architects : M/s Ushida Findlay Architects
  • ArcelorMittal donated $ 30.7 million and 2000 tons of steel to create it.

Fascinating facts

  • There are four uses of steel in the ArcelorMittal Orbit: the red super-structure, the spiral stairs, the Corten steel of the canopy at the bottom and the highly polished steel mirrors in the upper deck, designed by Sir Anish Kapoor.
  • 35,000 bolts were used to construct the ArcelorMittal Orbit.
  • 2000 tonnes of steel were used in the construction of the ArcelorMittal Orbit – this is the same as 265 double-decker buses.
  • 1200 tonnes of the total steel used was recycled – equivalent to 660 cars.
  • Recycling one tonne of steel saves 1.5 tonnes of iron ore, 0.5 tonnes of coal and 40% water usage.
  • The ArcelorMittal Orbit came about after a chance conversation in the cloakroom at the 2009 World Economic Forum between London Mayor Boris Johnson and Lakshmi Mittal of ArcelorMittal.
  • More than 90% of all the metal used in the world is steel.
  • Steel is the only metal that is infinitely recyclable. Steel was first used to build skyscrapers in 1883.
  • It would take 954 steel drinks cans stacked on top of each other to reach the top of the ArcelorMittal Orbit.


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