The ArcelorMittal Orbit, the 114.5 metre tall tower designed by Anish Kapoor and sponsored by the world's largest steel producer, was unveiled in London's Olympic Park on Friday.

The structure includes two observation floors giving spectacular views across London accessed by either a 455-step spiral staircase winding round the structure as well as lifts, with a capacity to take on up to 600 visitors an hour.

There are a number of distinctly Kapoor-esque touches, including two large concave mirrors in the observation towers at the top. When the design of the Orbit – a looping lattice of tubular steel – was first unveiled two years ago it courted a mixed reaction from the public.

While admitting the building was certainly ‘awkward' with its ‘elbows sticking out,' Kapoor didn't appear too concerned about the reaction it had gotten, arguing that many of the world's most iconic structures, including the Eiffel Tower and Britain's Houses of Parliament had also garnered a similar reception when they were first unveiled, being seen as out of step with what was appealing at the time.

“Controversy is okay – its part of the deal whether you like it or not,” he said at the inauguration.

“There will be those that like it and those that hate it but that's okay.”

Kapoor said that he and his design partner on the project, Cecil Balmond, the Sri Lankan born designer had long debated the possibility of an asymmetric tower.

“The higher you go in a straight line the more vulnerable it becomes, but an orbit is much more robust,” said Balmond.

He added that the choice of steel wasn't made because ArcelorMittal was the backer of the project but because the building wouldn't have been possible with an alternative.

“Making curves in space is only possible with steel, you couldn't have done this with concrete or wood,” he said.

The orbit will open to the public on the 28th of July, as the Olympics commences, at £15 a ticket per adult (£7 for children) for those with Olympic tickets.

Once the Games are over, the tower will be closed for a year, as the park is closed for a post-games transformation, and will be opened the following summer.

London Mayor, Boris Johnson, who first approached Mittal about a potential role in the Games in a cloakroom in Davos back in 2006, said he was glad it created a symbolic link between India and Britain.

“We are happy to give something to London,” said Lakshmi Mittal at the top of the tower, adding that it was an opportunity to showcase the extensive uses of steel.

ArcelorMittal has committed to funding up to £19.6 million towards the project including providing 2,000 tonnes of steel for the project – 60 per cent of which comes from scrap steel, and from ArcelorMittal plants across the world (mostly from Western Europe).

(This article was published on May 11, 2012)
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