In London’s latest attempt to transform an existing structure into a fairground attraction, the 2012 Summer Olympics’ most peacocky permanent leftover, the sculpture-observation tower otherwise known as the ArcelorMittal Orbit, will be outfitted with a slide — and not just any old slide. Wrapping around London’s most conspicuous landmark from a height of nearly 250 feet, the 584-foot enclosed chute promises to be the “world’s longest and tallest tunnel slide.”
From the initial design renderings, it doesn't appear that burlap gunny sacks will be part of the sliding experience.
Costing £5 (a little under $8) for a 40-second descent (that’s 20 cents per precious second, folks) and that's presumably in addition to the £12 walk-up entrance rate required to ascend the tower via stairs or an elevator, the spiraling slide — a helter-skelter as they'd call it across the pond — is not designed by the tower’s original architectural team of lauded British-Indian sculptor Anish Kapoor and Sri Lanka-born structural engineer Cecil Balmond.
Rather, Bblur Architecture, a London-based firm with the three-tenet mission to “delight, surprise and innovative” is behind the slide's design. Past Bblur projects include an airport parking lot and a bus station. Alongside Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, the firm is also responsible for Up at the O2, a “climbing adventure” on the roof of London’s old Millennium Dome. Like the forthcoming slide at the ArcelorMitall Orbit, Up at the O2 is a project that squeezes vertiginous thrills — and tourism dollars — from a skyline-dominating project that's long been shrouded in controversy.
A stepped-back view of the tower. (Photo: Gary Ullah/flickr)
Erected to represent the everlasting legacy of the Olympics and Paralympic games, the ArcelorMitall Orbit doesn’t bring back fond memories for many Londoners. Rather, the aggressively conspicuous mass of twisted red ribbons looming over northeast London stands as a painful reminder of a world event that the British capital city couldn’t afford to host.
Wrote Amy Chozick for the New York Times of the "lighting rod masquerading as a sculpture":
One of the most visible additions to the London skyline in decades and its tallest sculptural tower (about 70 feet higher than the Statue of Liberty), the Orbit has drawn criticism not just for its avant-garde design, but as a symbol — in spite of its mostly private financing — of the billions in government money being spent on the Olympics at a time when Britons are struggling under austerity measures put in place by the Conservative government of Prime Minister David Cameron.
It’s also worth mentioning that critics and the general public were largely unanimous in their distaste for the towering structure, built largely from recycled steel. (ArcelorMittal, by the way, isn’t some intergalactic forename for the futuristic sculpture but the name of the world’s largest steel producer/project funder). It’s been called "an enormous wire-mesh fence that has got hopelessly snagged round the bell of a giant French horn" (The Sunday Times), “a catastrophic collision between two cranes" (The Daily Mail), “a bit red clot on the landscape” (The Watford Observer), a white elephant, an eyesore, a misstep and a vanity project — a term that’s been thrown around a lot in London under the leadership of Mayor Boris Johnson.
This isn’t to say this colossal work of public art wasn’t without its fervent admirers and a few outspoken defenders. There have been the inevitable comparisons to the Eiffel Tower, a hulking edifice built for 1889's Exposition Universelle that Parisians originally looked down upon (while glancing upwards) in utter disdain. And look how that turned out.
Referring to the sculpture as both an “expressive work of art” and a “generous drunken party animal that waves and gesticulates next to the Olympic stadium,” art critic Jonathan Jones wrote for The Guardian: “Critics of the ArcelorMittal Orbit are missing a lot of fun. The moment I discover that strange orifice, as if it were about to vacuum up the Olympic crowd, or fart on everyone, is the moment I fall in love with this friendly giant. The closer you get, the more organic it becomes.”
Flatulent party animals aside, will the addition of a massive slide help to change public opinion of a largely detested sculpture, which, by the way, you can already abseil from for £85?
Will it help to bring in those all-important tourist dollars?
The officials at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park are counting on it.
Peter Tudor, director of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, explains in a news release: “ What more exciting way to descend the ArcelorMittal Orbit than on the world’s longest and tallest tunnel slide? We are committed to ensuring our visitors have the best possible day out every time they visit Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, and as with all our venues, we are constantly exploring ways to ensure we lead the way with the latest visitor experience. This slide really will give a different perspective of Britain’s tallest sculpture.”
Tudor offers addition insight to The Evening Standard: “It's about adding another attraction to the attraction. We've already got Anish Kapoor's mirrors that turn everything upside-down, and the view. We're looking at what other experiences can we provide to engage with the sculpture."
“One of the reasons it's called the Orbit is you orbit it. This is another way to do that."
The tower at night. (Photo: Aleem Yousaf/flickr)
Tudor is certainly not off the mark given that past visitors have lamented that the one thing that the sculpture is sorely missing, aside from lower entrance fees, is a massive slide.
Reactions to the decision to add a slide to Kapoor’s already divisive work (he reportedly gave the slide idea his full blessing) are coming in quick and strong. Some don’t see the harm in adding an element of fun to a landmark that's already been publicly flogged and then some — what's done is done so what's the harm? Others are keen on the idea of adding a less pricey, more family-friendly thrill-attraction to complement the existing abseiling option. One commenter at Dezeen equates the decision to add a slide to a work of art as being “akin to putting wobbly eyes on the Mona Lisa to make it more fun.”
Any thoughts? Would you take a not-so-leisurely (14 mph!) slide down Britain's tallest sculpture?
Via [Dezeen], [BBC]
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