The ArcelorMittal Orbit’s chief engineer talks about his role in building the Olympic Park’s striking sculpture
Pierre Engel works with our construction business in France and is the ArcelorMittal Orbit’s chief engineer. He works with the artist, structural engineer, construction engineers and contractors to oversee the technical coordination of the project.
Tell us about the team that is building the ArcelorMittal Orbit
The team putting the structure together on site is not very big – about four to six men. The structure is being manufactured in Bolton, Lancashire, and brought by lorry to the Olympic Park in London. We have to bolt it together on site and lift the heavy pieces by crane to get the construction erected without scaffolding. Because of this, we can’t afford to have a lot of people working on site.
The ArcelorMittal Orbit differs from usual construction projects in that you are working with an artist, Anish Kapoor, who designed the structure. How does this change the experience of the project?
Normally, the architect makes the plan and you build the building. Here we are building a sculpture, so what we have to satisfy first is the artist’s vision. Working with an artist is interesting because we would never construct a building in such a way. A building is straight, horizontal, vertical, but there is nothing straight about the ArcelorMittal Orbit: everything is curved.
You’ve worked in the steel industry for many years. In your mind, how does the ArcelorMittal Orbit compare with other structures you’ve worked on?
I began working in the steel industry as a welder, which was a wonderful experience because you learn to master the material. The last project I worked on was the Luxembourg Pavilion for the Shanghai Expo in 2010. That was a fascinating experience but the ArcelorMittal Orbit is different.
It is a piece of art by a leading sculptor. You can build sculptures but you don’t very often build a 115m high sculpture. To be part of transforming Anish’s art into a sculpture is something extraordinary.
It’s a wonderful experience and I wish every young engineer had the chance to do something like this. We’re working as a team to make something very interesting happen.
How is the ArcelorMittal Orbit pushing the boundaries of engineering?
Well, the boundaries of engineering are not known. Tomorrow we will do things we couldn’t do yesterday. With the ArcelorMittal Orbit, the boundary that we pushed first is that we are building a 115m high structure without scaffolding. Second, it is a very asymmetrical structure. Engineers are not used to creating so many different shapes. That, for us, is pushing the limit.
You’re very closely involved with the ArcelorMittal Orbit – have you developed an emotional attachment to the structure?
I don’t think you can work on it without developing an emotional attachment. The ArcelorMittal Orbit is art. For me, art is emotion. We started in January and every week the structure is growing. So it is emotional.
It is also emotional because it is built in the Olympic Park and the Olympic Games are something exceptional. They are universal and I think, as a global company, we at ArcelorMittal identify with that universality. We produce steel in many parts of the world and we aim to benefit the communities we work in and work with. I’m very proud of that and I’m proud of our association with the Olympic Games and the Olympic ideals.
When it is completed, how do you think Londoners will feel about the sculpture?
I think when the ArcelorMittal Orbit is completed, London will own an icon. Londoners will be able to go in it and view their city from the east, which is quite an unusual point of view to see London. The ArcelorMittal Orbit will offer a completely new perspective on central London, from the outside.