The ArcelorMittal Orbit was designed as a collaboration between former Deputy Chair at Arup, Cecil Balmond and internationally renowned artist Anish Kapoor. At 114.5m tall, the sculpture is Britain’s largest piece of public art, however its significance is far greater than its height.
Conceived as a landmark for the London 2012 Olympic Games, the sculpture remains a long-term symbol of the games’ legacy at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Fusing art, architecture and engineering, its unique and challenging form – a continuous, looping lattice of tubular steel – posed fundamental questions to planners, designers and engineers alike.
Incorporating light and vertical transportation into the design without compromising its energy performance and aesthetics created additional challenges. However, Arup created a sophisticated and sustainable sculpture that defies traditional notions of a tower, demonstrating how artists and engineers can collaborate creatively and effectively to deliver major and challenging artworks in public spaces.
85mhigh observation platform
A challenging design
We worked closely with the contractors, Sir Robert McAlpine, with construction starting in October 2010 and finishing in May 2012. From the conception of the project, we faced various challenges as design, approval, contract, and procurement activities were carried out in parallel as opposed to sequentially.
The design was led through its conceptual development by using bespoke parametric tools to achieve its challenging form. The tools allowed the team to sculpt and optimise the structural form in real time and produce construction information for the contractor efficiently to a tight deadline. The structure comes together to create a series of interconnected spaces that create a three-dimensional experience for visitors and observers to enjoy
With two observation platforms at 80m and 85m above ground, the ArcelorMittal Orbit was not conceived as just a sculpture but as an attraction that provides a unique perspective of the Olympic Village as well as views of London’s iconic buildings. To reach the viewing platforms, our team integrated a vertical transportation solution as innovative as the design of the structure. Working with our fire engineering specialists, we demonstrated that external lifts could be used for both transporting visitors up to the observation deck and evacuating them in a safely in emergencies. A spiral staircase of 455 steps was also added to descend the structure as an alternative emergency exit route.
Being invited to collaborate on [the tower] was an irresistible challenge. We want people to forget the engineering, the construction, the materials and simply ‘experience’ it. ” Cecil Balmond former Deputy Chair, Arup
A sustainable and sympathetic structure
As the first public artwork by Anish Kapoor to be lit, the sculpture quickly became a ‘must see’ monument at night. With a variety of modes for different events and times of day, the sculpture was a recognisable symbol of the 2012 Olympic Games.
Sustainability was an important concern, and it was necessary to create a cohesive, energy efficient and aesthetically attuned lighting project. Our team utilised Oasys’ GSA Suite software, an advanced structural analysis tool, which proved to be vital to create a lightweight yet energy-efficient structure.
Our lighting team chose saturated red LED lighting to accentuate the bespoke red specified by Anish Kapoor for the sculpture, creating maximum theatrical visual impact. LEDs emit zero UV light, which would otherwise disturb wildlife in the vicinity such as moths and bats, and the red lights would also consume less energy than a white alternative.
Working as an integrated team, our lighting designers, structural engineers and architects ensured full compliance with the local regulations. An advanced lighting software was used to analyse and predict the lighting distribution over the sculpture and its surroundings. Projectors were discreetly located within the structure and all cables and wirings were invisible, minimising light spill onto the ecologically sensitive area of the river corridor.
Thanks to its sustainable performance, the structure achieved a BREEAM Excellent rating, leaving a legacy of its commitment to social and environmental sustainability.