Mark Lamster | Essays

The Occupy Movement’s Accidental Monument

The ArcelorMittal Orbit — the name just rolls off the tongue, doesn't it? — may just be my favorite new building, though not because it's a particularly rational work of architecture, or even good. It's fairly ridiculous and easily parodied. An eyesore? "That's what they said about the Eiffel Tower," claim its defenders, on cue. 
There is something slighly charming in its deranged, roller-coaster ugliness, but let's not kid ourselves. A better analogy might be to the Pompidou, but even that is a very far stretch.

The Orbit strikes me as a work of accidental architecture parlante, a structure that is the perfect reflection of our confounded age. I suspect it will be the go-to cover shot for future textbooks describing this moment in history. Like us, it seems to be collapsing upon itself, a thing more interested in image than substance, its very name emblematic of our culture of rampant corporatism. (In case you were wondering, ArcelorMittal is a steel conglomerate headquartered in the Olympic powerhouse of Luxembourg.) Perhaps this is not the full-on endorsement its creators Anish Kapoor and Cecil Balmond imagined, but perhaps it is; Could the ArcelorMittal be the greatest intellectual Trojan horse in the history of architecture, a monument to the Occupy Movement foisted on its corporate sponsors? Probably not, but the idea amuses. 

National Stadium, Warsaw. Photo: Marcus Bredt

In the meantime, two new stadiums, in Warsaw and Kiev, from the German firm von Gerkan Marg, will be the architectural centerpieces of the Euro 2012 football championships. Like the Olympic architecture in London, these works theoretically represent the best spirit of our day.VGM practices the kind of high-tech corporate functionalism familiar from the work of Norman Foster, and that seems especially appropriate for athletic facilities. Transparency is always a hallmark of this kind of work. That will be a useful metaphor to keep in mind for those watching these games, as a recent BBC documentary revealed apparently widespread racism and anti-semitism in the stands in Poland and the Ukraine. 


Olympic Stadium, Kiev. Photo: Marcus Bredt

Comments [3]

This short article sheds some light on a darker part of the back-story of the building:

Ajdin Basic

Ok, I'm sort of perplexed. Why is this a "perfect reflection of our confounded age" or "a monument to the Occupy Movement foisted on its corporate sponsors?" I could potentially see why that may be the case but I didn't catch your thoughts on actually why?
Greg Mihalko

I dunno- I think you are stretching here.

First and Foremost, this is a sculpture, made by one of the pre-eminent sculptors of our time, in collaboration with one of the most sculptural engineers out there. So how it looks is most likely much more important to its creators than any political or "good architecture". Ugliness is subjective. I dont find it ugly at all.

Historically, I think it owes much more to Tatlin's Monument to the Third International than to the Pompidou or even the Eiffel Tower.
And more recently, to the "explosion in the amusement park" sculptures of Mary Miss. In other words, this particular aesthetic of large outdoor sculpture is something that has been going on for some time. This just happens to be a particularly fortuitous combination of big Asian money (Arcelor Mittal is owned by the Mittal family, from India) and big Asian name brand artist and engineer- Kapoor is part Indian, part Persian Jew, and Balmond is from Sri Lanka.
A more interesting thread to follow is what this tells us about the future domination of the UK by its asian immigrants, especially in creative fields. Which is percolating along in art, fashion, writing, and other areas, below the radar. Just as the USA is becoming more globalized, much to the chagrin of Southern Whites, the UK is too.

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