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Architects dismiss Olympic sculpture

Anish Kapoor and Cecil Balmond’s 2012 Olympics monument has received a cool response from architects, with Ken Shuttleworth describing it as ‘[the] Wembley arch after a design review with King Kong’

Known as the ArcelorMittal Orbit, the 115m-tall viewing platform was unveiled last week after a high-profile design contest. Kapoor and Balmond landed the commission after beating off rival designs by Caruso St John and Antony Gormley.

Will Alsop said: ‘Many architects have been playing with these forms for a long time. Who is Cecil Balmond? A person who discovered what we all know.’

However, competition judges have defended the £19 million project, backed by Mayor of London Boris Johnson and Indian steel tycoon Lakshmi Mittal. Nicholas Serota, director of the Tate, said the design was ‘timeless’.

Serota added: ‘There are some great buildings on this site by some of the best younger architects working in this country. For them to have [this] artist and engineer working on the same site is tribute to the fact Anish wanted to be there.’

Fellow judge Hans Ulrich Obrist, Serpentine Gallery director, said: ‘It’s not about polarising art and architecture. In the 21st century, it’s about dialogues and this is a dialogue between art, architecture and engineering, its building bridges.’ 

Verdicts on the monument

‘Kapoor’s exhibition at the Royal Academy was fantastic – innovative and unique. You could not apply those terms to this.’ Stewart McColl, Robinson McColl

‘It’s too clever by half. That sort of intricacy doesn’t translate to the scale. Architects understand large scales, but artists frequently don’t.’ Robert Adam, ADAM Architecture

‘The problem is that it is a sculpture that also has to be a useable building. This never works. Art is for art’s sake and, within reason, you can do what you like. [This] is misconceived, ugly (as it happens), banal, compromised and downright embarrassing.’ Hugh Pearman, editor, RIBA Journal

‘It looks exactly like the sort of thing I would have approved. It’s like I’ve never been away. [But] since it’s in a suburban area, local people that have to look at it every day should have some say in the sculpture.’ Ken Livingstone, former Mayor of London

‘It’s slightly different to what we have come to expect from him, it is a rather wild but still wonderful Kapoor with enough steel to keep Corus fully employed.  I like the idea of Olympic climbers competing to get to the top and hoisting their nation’s flags.  Any rate, good for Boris in getting it sponsored – it’s good for London and good for the Olympics, let’s hope we don’t have to melt it down and send it to China when the games are over.  I expect the birds will like it.’ Terence Conran

For more Hellman go to http://www.louishellman.co.uk/index.html

For more Hellman go to http://www.louishellman.co.uk/index.html

For more Hellman visit his website

Readers' comments (4)

  • Dear Sir Terence

    I don't think the steel is coming from Corus. Their Middlesbrough plant is shutting partly because Anish's other ugly sculpture being built on the banks of the Tyne is made from seel from the Netherlands not the local mill.

    Dear Mr Serota,

    You seem to think that architects should be flattered by the fact that 'Anish wanted to be there'. Is he some sort of god? In our discipline works are commissioned on the basis on whether they are any good or not. Not on the basis of who designed them. The art world is full of sycophants.

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  • The problem is you see that this is really a monument to British failiure. In the same year that Corus virtually collapses on Tyneside Boris Johnson commissions a multimillion pound tower which will be built overseas.

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  • Oh and another thing Boris, watch out because the people at Middlesbrough are so embarrassed about it all that the guy who so boldly commissioned was recently given the heave ho.

    Start packing up your desk now.

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  • It is a very good interpretation of Boris's thought process.

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