Completed in time for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, the Orbit is 114.5 metres tall and offers visitors great views over the Park, the nearby Canary Wharf and for up to 20 miles over London.
In 2008, the Mayor of London Boris Johnson and the Olympics minister Tessa Jowell decided that the Olympic Park needed ‘something extra’. They therefore announced a competition to design an Olympic Tower that was at least 100 metres in height.
The Orbit is designed by Sir Anish Kapoor, a former winner of the Turner prize, and Cecil Balmond. It was selected in March 2010 as the best of 50 entries submitted to an independent nine-person advisory panel. Construction started in November 2010, with the structure reaching its full height a year later.
The Orbit is now Britain’s largest work of public art and tallest sculpture. It was unveiled in May 2012, to mixed reviews. The Independent newspaper described it as containing ‘eight strands winding into each other and combined by rings like a jagged knot.’ Other commentators described the Orbit as a monument to the ego of the London Mayor, as at ‘Eyeful Tower’, and as a series of ‘horrific squiggles’.
During the Olympics, the Orbit was visited by 130,000 people. It was closed shortly thereafter, so that the Stratford site could undergo redevelopment. The Orbit re-opened on 5 April 2014, together with the rest of the south side of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park (which includes the London Aquatics Centre and a variety of stunning gardens surrounding the Olympic Stadium).
The Orbit is 114.5 metres (376 feet) tall, has observation decks at 76 metres and 80 metres and weighs 2,000 tonnes (the same weight as 1,136 London black cabs). It is constructed of steel with a recycled content of 60% that was produced in ArcellorMittal Limited’s plants around the world, held together by 35,000 bolts and protected by 19,000 litres of paint. The colour red was chosen because it symbolises luck in some Eastern cultures.
The Orbit cost £27 million to build, most of which was donated by Britain’s richest man Lakshmi Mittal, Chairman of the ArcelotMittal steel company. Structurally, the orbit contains two parts: the red tube lattice of red steel, surrounding a vertical tower or trunk which houses the elevators and supports the observation deck. At the bottom of the structure is found a huge 84-tonne conical canopy made of steel. The Orbit is unique for being the first structure of its kind to be constructed without the use of scaffolding.
The 600 pieces of steel making up the trunk was pre-fabricated by a team of 100 staff in Bolton, Lancashire.
Visitors take the express lift up to the Orbit’s top viewing platform, at a height of 80 metres. The ride takes 34 seconds and the views from the top are great.
Immediately below the Orbit is found the Olympic Stadium, currently being converted into West Ham United’s new football stadium, and the London Aquatics Centre.
A little further afield, you can see Stratford City, the Copper Box stadium (where handball was played during the Olympic games) and the velodrome (now converted into a large cycling centre, complete with mountain bike trails and BMX track).
To the South is the O2 Arena, Emirates Air Line and burgeoning Canary Wharf complex. Other buildings of note include the Shard, the City of London’s most famous new skyscrapers (such as the Heron Tower and Gherkin) and St Paul’s Cathedral.
The upper viewing platform has two mirror sculptures by Anish Kapoor, an outdoor balcony, and a ramp to the lower observation deck (at a height of 76 metres). You then have a choice: you can either get the lift back to the ground, or take 455 steps back down. If you choose to walk, which takes about 10 minutes, you follow the spiral walkway that snakes around the Orbit.
The Orbit has seen four marriage proposals: three during the Olympic Games and one since. It is now licenced to host weddings.
The Orbit hosts a number of events throughout the year. There are arts and crafts events for children, Christmas events (complete with Santa and Reindeer), and a bar on Friday evenings in December. 2015 sees the Orbit launch its abseiling experience days (costing £85 per person).
Tickets for the ArcelorMittal Orbit cost £15 for adults, £12 for concessions and £7 for children. Residents of London boroughs in East London (Barking and Dagenham, Greenwich, Hackney, Newham, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest) receive a £2 discount.
The Orbit is open between 10am and 6pm between April and September, and between 10 am and 4pm for the rest of the year.