Tuesday, 6 April 2010
More thoughts on the 'twisted thing'
Well, it's been a few days and it hasn't grown on me one bit.
On the one hand, after the initial rush of disgust, a more thoughtful mood seemed to prevail, with some contrarians thinking that the almost unanimous panning that it got meant that perhaps the 'arcelormittal orbit' ought to be reconsidered, and that perhaps it was quite dynamic after all, what with its hints of both Eiffel and Tatlin, and the 'Tower of Babel', apparently, which is surely not a good omen.
But, no. It's still ghastly. On the one hand the entire commissioning process for the object has been ghastly, with its vulgar politicians, its bastard of a financial backer, and its self-whoring 'geniuses', seen from left to right in the picture above, all contributing the kind of grinningly insincere statement that nobody even begins to pretend to believe, words that are nothing but cheap oil to the nu-language PR machinery. The fact that once again it's a piece of public art which signifies nothing but its own potential to be iconic is terrible, putting it firmly into the realms of what Jonathan Meades calls a 'sight-bite', those generically unique edifices which from an only slightly pessimistic angle resemble constructed death spasms of architectural culture. Couldn't we just have a massive sculpture of Lakshmi Mittal and be done with it?
On the other hand, it is going to be rather huge - 110m high is not a small building - it's the same size as Centre Point or the Barbican Towers, for the Londoners amongst you, thus it will be visible from a LOT of places. I suppose that it will be a spectacle to climb the tower, with the views, the wind, and the strange shapes looping around you, but anything that height would have the same effect upon the visitor; it's still only a third of the height of the Eiffel Tower.
This links into what in The Architecture of Failure I call the '1889 syndrome'; the twin structural achievements of the Galerie des Machines and the Eiffel Tower were so large that at that point engineering technology managed to surpass any of the spatial demands that had yet been made, or that yet could be made of it; that was the point that architecture revealed itself to be always pre-aestheticised, the point that any architectural dream of 'pure function' was, essentially, dashed.
In a way, the 'Arcelormittalorbit' is a symptom of this problem; and also a symptom of the problems of digital design in general. None of the images have even begun to express the scale of this object, because it is essentially scale-less.I don't think Anish Kapoor really has any idea how big it is; I suspect he's only ever seen it on the screen of a computer in the Arup office, I even suspect he's not contributed a great deal to the design at all; what we have is a doodle that has been turned into a digital shape which has then been translated into a buildable structure by some very advanced computer software. This is a process that is becoming more paradigmatic by the day, as the -supposed- vanguard of architecture resort more and more to the 'resolved shape' method of design; what the parametric revolution seems to be giving us is a terrible floundering around looking for appropriate forms to do justice to our new tools; cheap metaphors and weak symbolisms abound, 'strings of pearls', 'rolling hills', cheap nods to extinct local cultures, or more often than not, a napkin sketch. At the end of the day it's intellectually weak and more than a little depressing.
In fact, just to show you how easy it is, I've offered them a hand - this is my attempt to improve the structure, a redesign that took all of twenty minutes. Structurally it functions as a parabolic arch resting upon two geodesic domes (a homage to Buckminster Fuller), although the arch itself is made up of two separate structural objects; a web-truss and a circular sectioned box-truss, which meet at the viewing platform inside the 'bell-end'. I think it not only provides an iconic structure that we can all admire from anywhere around London, but it also wryly subverts, deconstructs, if you will, the priapic certainty of the conventional tower-structure.
click on the above picture to enlarge.