Size matters

07 Apr 2010

Just as I was about to telescope out of the global and into the local via Cheshire, this news comes from home and given my last post on art and Olympianism, I've decided to re-route via Stratford. Artist Anish Kapoor and engineer Cecil Balmond's winning design for the 2012 site, dubbed the “Hubble Bubble” by mayor/project instigator Boris Johnson, covers a lot of associative miles -- between the Empire and the Britain of today;Tatlin's Russia, Eiffel's Paris and Blackpool. Ultimately, though, it leaves one back down the road already travelled, thumbing for a lift.

'Audacious' can't be stretched to fit this clot-red cyborgian architectural vision but it puts you in the project ball park. One of main billing points for the proposed £16 million (most of which will be covered by steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal) solo-artist commission is the fact it will be taller than the Statue of Liberty and offer views to rival those from any other of the city's structures. This “re-think of what a tower might be” will likely showcase many things, not least what steel and money can do.

It would seem that global fortunes have changed but cultural ambitions have not. A good thing some might say, but for all the impressiveness of the endeavour in these cash-strapped times one can't help but compare the commission with the kind of macho architectural posturing that goes on in places like Dubai. It reeks of the outlandish art fair structures associated with the boom period just passed: a potentially nasty reminder of things lost, yet all the while a beacon of hope to what will very likely roll around again.

What will there be to see from the ArcelorMittal Orbit viewing platform once games have ended and the international wagons rolled out of town? On screen it all sounds good, the legacy plan – a wetlands area, green and housing space for the community, but naturally peppered with words such as “restored” and “adapted” that can bridge indefinite periods of time. Do we remember the Millennium party or the years of the Dome lying empty?

But perhaps, just as the art commissioned for Tatton inevitably engages one with the heritage issues surrounding the site, this typically penile (if-tortured) skyline structure might bring about a new view onto an old problem: a watch tower over what will be remembered in time, first and foremost, as a major re-gen project. The world has been invited to come watch London change under its collective gaze – let's hope for the credibility of the city and sake of its least fortunate inhabitants, it does.

Posted by Rebecca Geldard at 2:57 PM