Riding the ArcelorMittal Orbit Slide for ND123
It seemed somehow fitting that on the day of the EU referendum I was preparing to propel myself into the dark unknown. At the top of the ArcelorMittal Orbit, the Anish Kapoor sculpture of winding red metal that dominates the space between the Aquatics Centre and what is now West Ham United’s home ground on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, I was ready to ‘Ride the Slide’ – a souped-up helter-skelter designed by Belgian artist Carsten Holler that over the course of 178m and 12 twists plummets you the 76m from the viewing gallery back to terra firma.
Nattily accessorised in a scrum cap and elbow protectors I pushed off with some trepidation. I’m not afraid to admit that taken aback by the speed and tight turns of the ride I screamed like a giddy teenager for the 40 seconds or so it took me to descend and emerge into the daylight. What I anticipated might be a gentle cruise to the bottom turned out to be a thrilling ride that certainly got the heart racing.
The slide is the world’s longest and tallest tunnel slide and riders can expect to experience speeds of up to 15mph during their descent – although I can attest that it certainly feels significantly faster within the confines of the 800mm diameter tube.
Carsten Holler designed the slide at the invitation of the Orbit’s original architect Anish Kapoor, who was eager that his distinctive work of public art should be augmented by an experiential element. Holler is no stranger to such rides having conceived the giant slides that occupied the installation space in the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall during 2006. His vision for the Orbit slide includes a particularly fiendish tight corkscrew section dubbed the ‘bettfeder’ after the German word for ‘bedspring’.
Construction was led by Buckingham Group Constructing using specialist abseilers provided by CAN Structures, with structural engineering work provided by BuroHappold. The Slide has been manufactured by world-renowned slide manufacturer Wiegand and British firm Interkey, who are based in Corby. Steel has been contributed by ArcelorMittal, whose original donation made possible the realisation of structure for the 2012 London Olympic Games. Polycarbonate sections of the tube allow riders to see out of the slide for certain sections of the ride, providing that is they are brave enough to keep their eyes open the whole way down.
“Since 1999, I have built a number of slides, both free-standing and attached to buildings, but never onto another artwork as in this case,” explains the slide’s designer Holler.“Now that the two artworks will be intertwined with each other, I see it as one of these double situations that I am so interested in. I like it when a sense of unity is reached in two separate entities, and you can find this thought to repeatedly occur in my work.”
“I am delighted that my work, the ArcelorMittal Orbit at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is the site for a collaboration with Carsten Höller. I believe it will result in the making of a new work which will bring two works of art together in an ambitious way,” adds Kapoor.
Unlike the result of the EU referendum I can guarantee that this particular venture into the uncertain will put a smile on your face. And there’s no need to be too frightened, although the ride is speedy the plunge is nowhere near as steep as the dive the pound took on Brexit day.