Curved Steel Reaching into Orbit

A recent article in the December issue of Modern Steel Construction brought to my attention the ArcelorMittal Orbit, located in London’s Queen Elizabeth II Olympic Park.  I had remembered seeing images of the structure during the 2012 Olympic Games in London.  Though now, I can appreciate the design as an individual working in the steel industry.  Functionally, it serves as an observation tower offering views of one of the world’s most famous cities.  Aesthetically, it serves as London’s largest piece of public art.

Construction took over 18 months and used approximately 2000 tons of steel.  The structure has two observation decks which can be reached by elevator.  British newspaper The Independent suggests reaching the observation platforms by elevator and taking the winding 455-step staircase to descend so one can truly appreciate the different views available all around the structure.  Notable uses of curved steel in the design can be seen around the observation tower, as well as the winding staircase.  More difficult to notice from a distance is the use of curved steel in the lower canopy.  Underneath the red tubing framework of the base is a cone section built from 117 individually shaped steel panels.  The cone has a total surface area of 586 square meters, or approximately 1922 square feet and approximately 94 tons of steel.

Reviews of the structure have been mixed, and for a variety of reasons.  There is a mixture of both order and chaos in the tower.  The powerful presence of the red tubing in the design gives an almost flame-like quality to the piece.  This may have been inspired by the iconic imagery of dancing flames from an Olympic torch.  As well, the contrast of straight tubing combined in a lattice shape to form such massive, curved loops hints at the conflict of order and chaos in the piece.

From a steel bender’s perspective, I find the mixture of straight and curved steel a fantastic accomplishment.  It’s been almost 15 years since I first visited London, and this is one of the many structures I will definitely seek out for a visit on my return.

ArcelorMittal Orbit at Night
ArcelorMittal Orbit at Night


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