Today I took a trip to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Stratford, and, thanks to the curiosity of my companion, found myself standing on the circular observation deck of the ArcelorMittal Orbit.
The Orbit tower is that strange, red sculpture next to the 2012 Olympic stadium that looks like a cross between a helter-skelter and giant roller-coaster Meccano set. Standing at 114.5 metres tall, the tower is the UK’s largest sculpture. It was designed by artist Anish Kapoor and designer Cecil Balmond, following its commission by the Mayor of London for the 2012 Olympic Games.
The Orbit was reopened to the public in 2014, and my friend and I were pleasantly surprised by what we found. Walking beneath the sculpture’s canopy, which resembles a giant trumpet facing earthwards, you’re greeted by some of the welcoming floor staff. They recite facts about the red-painted monolith, as you travel from ground level up to the observation deck in a waiting lift.
There are two observation decks on the Orbit, one at 76m, the other at 80m. The views from both are truly incredible. On a clear day, nowhere in east London will you find views so breathtaking. You can see the densely-packed cluster of towers and skyscrapers that make up central London. You can see The O2 (formerly the Millennium Dome), the Shard, the Gherkin. You can even glimpse the white arch of Wembley Stadium way in the distance.
These photos from my ageing smartphone only offer a small sample of the view. With the naked eye (ahem, and glasses), I was able to spy Alexandra Palace, the top of Wood Green’s shopping centre, the tower blocks of Woodford Green and the vast patch of Epping Forest that engulfs most of my hometown. Just seeing my city, my land, stretched out before my eyes like vast model set was fascinating – short of booking a helicopter ride or buying one of the swanky, overpriced apartments in the E20 area, you won’t find views quite like this anywhere else in east London.
The price for such an experience? £15 for adults and £7 for children. That may seem dear, but the tickets actually last for a full 12 months, which isn’t bad. There’s also a £2 discount for residents from the Olympic Games’s six host boroughs (Hackney, Newham, Barking and Dagenham, Greenwich, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest).
Descending the 455 steps to the ground, you’re treated to sound clips from the 2012 Olympics, bird song and other “found-sounds” from the London soundscape.
There is more to the Orbit, including interactive view screens, concave mirrors and the thematic representation of moving from darkness into light. However, for me, the view is its biggest selling point. Looking at the Orbit from afar, it still strikes me as a towering, tangled mess of steel that’s steadily embedded itself as part of the east London landscape. Although, I must admit that visiting it has made me appreciate it more.
For more information on visiting the ArcelorMittal Orbit, including opening times, visit the official website.
Images: Aaron Lee