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Is Criticism of the New Inevitable?

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Probably, yes, and arguably it's healthy too. It's human nature to prefer the familiar because it doesn't challenge us. Come on, who really likes having their values questioned?

Yet history is littered with examples of the new being vilified, then taken to our hearts a generation or less later. In art, Van Gogh, Cezanne and many others, derided by respected contemporary commentators, come to mind easily enough. And when it comes to architecture, there are plenty of examples. Today we love the Houses of Parliament and the famous red phone box, and certainly the value to Paris and the French of the Eiffel Tower is incalculable. Yet the designs of each were criticised when new.

There was considerable pressure for the Houses of Parliament to adopt Sir John Soane's neo-classical rather than Barry and Pugin's gothic style (can you imagine a White House/Federal Capitol style building facing the Thames at Westminster?). The red phone box has become a British icon, although it was not universally loved at the start, particularly, and ironically, its colour. And the novelist Guy de Maupassant hated the Eiffel Tower so much that he supposedly ate in its restaurant every day, claiming that it was the only place in Paris where he did not have to look at it.

It's always been good sport to criticise the new, particularly when, as in the cases of the Eiffel Tower and Anish Kapoor and Cecil Balmond's ArcelorMittal Orbit in the Olympic Park, an attempt is made to reach a wide audience by including a great view or a fun experience in a piece of art.

Remember Carsten Holler's slides at Tate Modern? In the case of the Orbit, further ammunition is delivered to the doubters by the fact that no-one can really say what it is: Work of art? Visitor attraction? Viewing tower? Olympic symbol? Corporate advertisement? This multi-dimensionality lays the ArcelorMittal Orbit open to criticism, because everyone tends to suspect that the real intention is not the one that they favour (whichever it is), but actually, this 'something for everyone' aspect is the Orbit's strength, not its weakness.

The ArcelorMittal Orbit demonstrates what can happen when steel, art, cutting edge technology and sport get together. It's worth remembering too what the initiators of the project, the steel and mining company ArcelorMittal and the Mayor of London, said when the project was announced, which was that they wanted to create an icon for London 2012 and, in legacy, a symbol of the regeneration of East London. Both objectives are worth pursuing.

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