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Now towering over London's Olympic Park: 'The Godzilla of public art'

Tim Hales / AP

Designed by Anish Kapoor and Cecil Balmond, the ArcelorMittal Orbit sculpture is made up of 63 percent recycled steel and incorporates the five Olympic rings.

LONDON -- Red, twisted and 72 feet higher than the Statue of Liberty, the ArcelorMittal Orbit now looms over the Olympic Park as the tallest sculpture in Great Britain.

Designed by Turner Prize-winning artist Anish Kapoor and architect Cecil Balmond, tabloid newspapers have branded it "the Eye-ful Tower," "the Godzilla of public art" and worse. Others say it looks like a roller coaster gone badly awry.

Even London's normally garrulous Mayor Boris Johnson struggles to describe the $36-million structure. "It is very absorbing to look at," he says. "It has got that weird enigmatic tubey Fallopian quality about it if I'm being totally blunt."

'A 45-second conversation'
The idea for what has been called a "deconstructed Eiffel Tower" was formulated in 2009, when Johnson and steel magnate Laksmi Mittal discussed creating something dramatic for the Olympics while attending the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland.  

The ArcelorMittal Orbit sculpture towers over the 2012 Olympic Park. The brainchild of London's Mayor Boris Johnson, the Orbit is the subject of much debate.

 


"This was conceived in a 45-second conversation in a cloakroom!" Johnson recalled on Friday, as officials announced the 2,000-ton tower had been completed.

Mittal contributed $31 million to the project, with the rest of the cost being covered by public funds. However, the sculpture has proved controversial at a time when the U.K. is grappling with massive spending cuts.

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Kapoor says he expected to evoke a mixture of responses to his latest work. "When you make a new addition of this scale to the London skyline, its bound to be controversial, and there are those who love it and those who don’t and we'll see what time does," he said.

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Kapoor noted that Paris's iconic Eiffel Tower was considered "the most tremendously ugly object" by many when it was first built. 

Belmond, who described the looping structure as "a curve in space," said he thought people would be won over by it.

Visitors will be able to pay $24 to go up the 35-story structure in an elevator when it opens during the Olympic Games in July.

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On a clear day, views from its observation deck extend for 20 miles across London and the green hills beyond.

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A diverse community in East London will welcome the world to Britain for the 2012 Olympic Games. Meet residents and hear how they feel about having a huge, world stage in their backyard.

The tower will be at the heart of a new 560-acre park, the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, that will include a lush river valley, biking trails and a tree-lined promenade. 

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After the Games, Johnson says he expects millions will visit the Orbit, and that it will be become a landmark. 

He believes other Londoners will come to love it, too.

"I think so," he said, then paused. "In the end."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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