Earlier today I was incredibly lucky to be one of the first people to go up the Orbit. Even before the Olympics has started, it’s already become one of the most recognisable structures in the Olympic Park, and is no doubt soon to become familiar to people around the world, as it’s bound to feature prominently in TV broadcasts from the park once the games begin (especially as there aren’t that many spectacular buildings in the park).
Getting in was no different to the procedure that would be familiar to anyone who’s been to a test event in the park recently – arrive from Stratford, and cross the road to go through the efficient and friendly airport-style security. Once through it was a short walk in between the Aquatic Centre & Water Polo Arena, over the river via footbridge, and there it was.
The biggest surprise on arrival is that there’s a strange rusty iron bell hanging out of the bottom (the Guardian’s art critic described it as an arse – I can’t see it myself). Just behind that is a little structure that contains the lift the whisks you quickly up to the top.
On reaching the top I was delighted to see that you can actually get outside into the open air, with two little balconies on either side, one of which has great views right into the Olympic Stadium next door – good enough that we even got a little sneak preview of the opening ceremony, as we could see a little grassy hill with a tree on it at one end of the stadium (you can read more about that, and see where the tree will sit here).
The viewing platform itself is lovely – wide and spacious, with fantastic views on all sides. We were lucky enough to have clear skies tonight (especially given how grim the weather has been recently), so we had clear views all the way out to Wembley and beyond. In fact, with the O2, Excel, and Wembley all in sight you can see almost all of the major games venues from up here.
The platform also had one other surprise – inside are two other Anish Kapoor sculptures, huge curving mirrors not unlike the C-Curve mirror that was in London’s Kensington Gardens in 2010.
The biggest surprise of the day was how it changed how I feel about the sculpture. Beforehand I really couldn’t make up mind about it. Now I’ve been up, I’m a total convert. To see it at close hand, from underneath, from above, from inside, and from the stairs on the way down, is to experience it totally differently from seeing it from far away. The shape curves and twists in different directions, giving a different view from every angle. It’s incredibly solid but incredibly lightweight at the same time, with the slender struts leaving plenty of room for views in between.
Most people I’ve spoken to up til now have been pretty ambivalent about the Orbit, if not downright hostile. Based on tonight, I reckon that’ll change pretty rapidly. It may look like a big red squiggle, but close up the structure itself is fantastic, and the views even better, and I think Londoners are soon going to grow to love it.
You can see my full set of pictures of my Orbit visit here.