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Architecture News
ArcelorMittal Orbit is a 'new type of space', says delivery architect

Cover of The Architects' Journal (14 June 2012) featuring the ArcelorMittal Orbit

Posted: 15 June 2012
Written by Graham Soult


The Architects' Journal this week published its account of Ushida Findlay Architects' role in creating the ArcelorMittal Orbit, the remarkable observation tower over London.

As the ArcelorMittal Orbit's official delivery architect, Ushida Findlay Architects has been responsible for turning one of the world's tallest sculptures into a 'habitable building.'

Talking about the practice's role and experience in building the Orbit, Kathryn Findlay told Sapling.info:

"Creating the ArcelorMittal Orbit has been a thrilling helter-skelter ride. Standing at 114.5m high, it is a large building, as well as a sculpture. Ushida Findlay Architects' role as the delivery architects has been to work with the joint vision of the artist Anish Kapoor and the engineer and co-creator Cecil Balmond.

"From the initial sketch it has grown into a looping lattice form. The lattice evolved from the need to build the vision and make the concept constructible. Kapoor and Balmond's idea was to 'challenge the idea of tower', so initially it was just a vertical form. It is stabilised by points crossing in space on a tripod base. Daniel Bosia of Arup engineered the overall form and we were appointed as the delivery team.

"We are always asked what architecture there is in the ArcelorMittal Orbit. The answer is that as well as it being a large engineered structure and an artistic expression, it is also a complex feat of architecture. We had to devise the parts people will inhabit such as the entry pavilion, the lift shaft, the observation decks, the emergency stair and the plant (machine) screens, as well as coordinate all of the junctions between the big red bits of steelwork. All of these junctions were wild, unpredictable shapes coming at each other in all directions. These clashes were heaven and hell to work out.

"The precision structure required precision geometry. We wanted to minimise parts that detracted from the journey through this three-dimensional maze. We feel that this process has made the vision more convincing as a piece of art.

"In reality, up close, the design creates a monumental form and a new type of space as well as a unique human experience. The nitty-gritty detail was exceptionally hard work to think through, a hundred times more consuming that we had imagined. At each stage there was a complex problem which needed solving. Now it is done we feel that is a massive achievement. It's going to become a symbol of our ever-evolving city, where new architectural typologies can come to fruition. What will come next?"

You can watch 'the making of' the ArcelorMittal Orbit on BBC2 this weekend on The Culture Show.

Ushida Findlay Architects [external link]
The Architects' Journal [external link]
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