Tagged: anish kapoor

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…