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ArcelorMittal Orbit: A symbol made of steel for the 2012 Olympic & Paralympic Games in London
The symbol of the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic Games and new tourist attraction in London was completed on time after just one year of construction. At 114.5 metres, the Orbit, designed by artist Anish Kapoor and structural engineer Cecil Balmond, is the UK’s highest sculpture. ArcelorMittal donated the steel used for its characteristic red looping lattice structure.
Situated in the Olympic Park in Stratford between the Olympic Stadium and the Aquatics Centre, the ArcelorMittal Orbit is a permanent installation giving legacy to the city hosting the Olympics and assuring a lasting regeneration in the East London area of Stratford.
From its two panoramic indoor platforms with a capacity of 150 people each, visitors can take in a view over the surrounding park and the London skyline. Two passenger lifts inside the main structure (with a 21-person capacity each) takes them up and down. Alternatively, a 455-step spiral staircase can be used to climb and descend the tower.
In May 2012, the sculpture was inaugurated and licensed to the London Legacy Development Corporation after the games, and a period of transformation was planned for a re-opening to the public as a visitor attraction in summer 2013.
2000 tonnes of steel from ArcelorMittal plants around the world - more than 60% of it from recycled material
The tower’s structure, consisting of a continuous looping lattice of tubes, was 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 in 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% recycled material for the construction of the Olympic installations. In order to meet these 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.
The ArcelorMittal Orbit is an iconic showcase for the versatility of steel: according to its designers it was the only feasible material to realise this structure thanks to its minimum thickness combined with maximum strength.
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, CEO of ArcelorMittal, who expressed excitement. Living in London since 1997, 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.
Soon after, a competition was organised. From 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 concept: Architecture meets sculpture
The name 'Orbit' goes back to the design phase as it was used as a working title for the looping sculpture by Kapoor and Balmond.
The sculpture is the creative representation of the Olympics and the physical and emotional efforts of the competitors. Like the Games, the looping structure has a beginning and an end, but throughout it contains continuous challenges and drives for improvement.
The main interest of both Kapoor and Balmond is geometry and forms and how these can give rise to structures. Their very different backgrounds allow them to see this from two different perspectives. While architecture is still mainly seen as sectional, sculpture includes the 3rd dimension – and the Orbit combines both.
The dimensions of this sculpture and its completely asymmetric form required high tech engineering. Still, it was the aim of both of its creators that the structure should have a sense of poetry: People should forget about the engineering and material used in the construction and simply 'experience' it as a piece of art.
They compare it to the athletes: what really counts is not the amount of training and preparation for the Olympics, but rather the results that they achieve.
The structure, made of discreet elements, seeks to engage the viewers in form, colour, and reflectivity and invites public participation.
The realisation 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.
Manufactured in Bolton, Lancashire, the structure was brought to the site by lorry. The on-site construction team consisted of only four to six 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 ArcelorMittal Orbit was accompanied by many technical challenges. As an artistic sculpture with its asymmetric forms, no piece was identical and that is 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 metres, it is Britain’s highest sculpture and 22 metres higher than the Statue of Liberty in New York City.
The structure contains 366 star nodes, each of them 4 metres tall, and a total of 35 000 bolts were used to connect the structure. 19 000 litres of red paint (RAL 3003) give the ArcelorMittal Orbit its characteristic colour.
In order to make the structure steadier, a tune mass damper was used – two lumps of steel are hung as the 2.8 m 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 of Indaten® weathering steel panels with thicknesses from 10-20 mm. These panels were produced by Industeel Belgium, also part of the ArcelorMittal Group.
The ArcelorMittal Orbit is a unique creation somewhere between sculpture and architecture, with its design being a challenge for the 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, representing this global event and enriching the city's skyline.
- United Kingdom
Design: Anish Kapoor & Cecil Balmond
Architecture: Ushida Findlay Architects
- 2010 - 2012
London Legacy Development Corporation
- Engineering firm: