Current Issue
This Month's Print Issue

Follow Fast Company

We’ll come to you.

1 minute read

Could an Icon of the 2012 Olympics Become a Stinky Engineering Debacle?

The giant hookah needs more structural engineering—and sewage pipes—before it can be approved.

Could an Icon of the 2012 Olympics Become a Stinky Engineering Debacle?

A few months ago, sculptor Anish Kapoor won the competition to grace the stadium plaza for the 2012 London Olympics with his 375-foot ArcelorMittal Orbit. From the get-go, it seemed destined to become the enduring icon of the 2012 games.

But today news comes that the sculpture will need significant changes before it can be approved by London's planning department. Wait, so no more Eiffel Tower humping a trumpet while being strangled by an evil red roller coaster?

The ruling, by London's Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, could dramatically change the look of the $30 million structure. Positioned just outside the massive London Olympic Stadium, the tower will feature viewing platforms that will host 600 people a day—and, due to its location, it's likely to feature prominently in thousands of broadcast shots of the games. Moreover, the ArcelorMittal Orbit may become a permanent part of London's architectural landscape. So asking Kapoor and his team to revisit the design—with the clock ticking down rapidly—is a big deal, indeed.

The issues with the structure could be the rambling, seemingly haphazard form of the sculpture itself, which the London building commission says is "not yet resolved in sufficient detail to receive planning approval." But it also seems Kapoor and the engineering firm Arup's Advanced Geometric Design Unit didn't allow for certain necessities like sewage pipes (wait, there are bathrooms up there?) which may need to be twisted in with the tubular steel. The commission is also concerned about the design of the elevators and the viewing platforms—okay, let's definitely check on those, shall we?—and the way that other structures like ticket booths will fit in to the overall scheme.

Or it could just be the fact that a piece that looks like slowly-disintegrating scaffolding is scaring the heck out of the building inspectors. Safety's been a prime concern for Britain's public art since Manchester saw problems with Thomas Heatherwick's B of the Bang, a massive spiky sculpture that looked not unlike a sophisticated gold mace and was previously Britain's largest art installation. After a spine fell from the sculpture—which was at the time the largest in England—the piece was removed in 2009 and Heatherwick had to pay a $2.7 million out-of-court settlement to the city.