Lakshmi Mittal's million dollar tribute to London

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  1. Blackwater

    Blackwater Veteran Member Veteran Member

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    London: "Steel. Art. Sport. A bold combination." This is the tagline at the top of the invitation to a Champagne reception hosted by the steel magnate Lakshmi Niwas Mittal, and his wife Usha on Friday night to celebrate the newly opened ArcelorMittal Orbit at Olympic Park in London.

    A bold combination indeed. The project came about after Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, bumped into Britain's richest man in a cloakroom in Davos, Switzerland, and convinced him to do something for the Olympics. The Orbit, which was the result of that conversation, has opened to mixed reactions.

    "I must be careful when I next go into a cloakroom that Boris isn't behind me, or any other mayor for that matter," said Mr Mittal, who is chairman and chief executive of ArcelorMittal. His company is a big sponsor of the London Olympics, and covered £19.6 million, or $30.8 million, of the £22.7 million cost of the Orbit. The Greater London Authority, the administrative body that runs the city and is headed by the mayor, paid the rest.

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    The curling steel structure is designed by Anish Kapoor, the Turner prize-winning artist known for his large-scale installations. Mr Kapoor, who was born in Mumbai but has lived and worked in London since the 1970's, worked with the structural designer Cecil Balmond - with whom he first collaborated on another sculpture, "Marsyas," at Tate Modern's Turbine Hall in 2002. The aim, he says, was to create a piece of art that "engages a real public."

    On approach across the windy wasteland that is the current Olympic Park, the Orbit has as much impact as a broken-down helter-skelter at Blackpool Pleasure Beach, a seaside theme park. At 114.5 meters, or 375 feet, the spiraling red structure is the tallest in Britain and is about 22 meters taller than the Statue of Liberty. It can accommodate an estimated 5,000 visitors a day who can travel to two platforms on two elevators. There they can spend 30 minutes looking at a panoramic view of London, before descending 455 steps.

    Mr Kapoor said he wants visitors to the Orbit to experience the sculpture not simply as a piece of art to be observed, but also from within by winding up and down its steps. The Orbit is made from 2,000 tons of steel, 57 percent of which is recycled.

    It is "a mythical tower of Babel that says 'come and join me,' " Mr. Kapoor said. "The experience will be about winding up and in on oneself. You want to forget the construction and engage with what you're experiencing."

    At the reception Mr. Johnson, the mayor, welcomed guests to the "giant squashed red trombone" that symbolized a "spirit of dynamism" and a "resurge in economic hope," designed in "thumping good taste" - the latter claim was met with silence as guests sipped their Champagne. Already dubbed the archetypal "turd on the plaza" by art critics and the British press, whose descriptions of the Orbit have ranged from "a giant Mr. Messy" to "a drunken party animal of a building," the structure has been compared with the Eiffel Tower, which was also met with disdain when it was completed.

    At the top platform two large mirrors stretch around the inside, designed to distort vision. They reflect images of visitors that are larger and more imposing than the buildings in the distance. And the view is like no other in London, revealing a magnificent skyline as the sun begins to drop on the hills.

    On the descent, the Orbit comes to life. It's a mass of twisted blood vessels that glow and pulsate at night. The strips of steel seem like glowsticks that have to be broken to be allowed to bleed and come alive in the dark.

    Mr Mittal told me the structure is homage to London, which has been his home since 1997, and is his way of contributing to the regeneration of East London, a rundown part of the city where many of the newly built Olympic venues are located.

    It appears that he had a direct hand in the structure's creation. When asked about its aesthetics, he laughed and said: "Oh, I was scribbling with Anish as it was being planned. People should appreciate it as art and steel."

    Nearby, the author Vikram Seth - who a clueless guest haplessly addressed as "Victim" - sat tapping his feet to the music of a leggy saxophonist. "It is what it is," he said about the sculpture before descending to the lower viewing platform and sitting on the floor to watch the England-Sweden Euro 2012 game along with the remaining guests, who were snacking on lemon tarts and sipping Champagne.

    At $24 per adult ticket, the Orbit is less expensive than the London Eye at $30, but is still much more expensive than other similar-size tourist attractions. Visiting the top-level platform of the Eiffel Tower costs $18 and the Statue of Liberty can leave you $17 poorer. Mr Kapoor insists that the price must be lowered dramatically once it is open to the public during the Olympic and Paralympic games.

    Unfortunately, once the games end, the public will have to wait until March 2014, when the Olympic Park is reopened as the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park after a multimillion-pound renovation.


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