Artist Anish Kapoor and engineer Cecil Balmond recently unveiled Temenos, the first Teesside Giant artwork. E&T boarded a helicopter for a closer look from above.
As we pull in to the car park of Middlesbrough FC's Riverside Stadium, the E&T cameraman and I are greeted by an unprepossessing vista of abandoned industrial buildings to our left and the rusting hulk of a freight tanker to our right, with the choppy waters of the River Tees all around and a leaden, malevolent sky.
In all, this seems like an especially incongruous setting for a monumental modern art sculpture, an imposing work of public art by an internationally acclaimed artist and the first of a proposed series of five such installations known as the Tees Valley Giants.
Yet, turning 180 degrees away from the football ground, there it is: Temenos. At 110m long, 50m high and succinctly described by its creator - sculptor Anish Kapoor, working in close partnership with engineer and structural designer Cecil Balmond - as 'two rings and a pole', Temenos is impressive.
Even with that container ship for a near neighbour and the city's famous Transporter Bridge as a backdrop, Temenos's ethereal steel rings and cable construction hang suspended above the ground with an aura of stark simplicity, tempered by the shape and form shifting according to one's angle.
Funded by a combination of funds from public and private sources and costing £2.7m, Temenos has been unveiled as the first of the five Giants - an installation in each of the Tees Valley's five boroughs of Middlesbrough, Darlington, Hartlepool, Redcar, Cleveland and Stockton.
The dockside area of Middlehaven became the inaugural art borough, and tens of thousands of football fans from all over the UK will now pass under the sculpture every Saturday afternoon as they make their way to and from the match. Temenos has been designed - and conveniently situated - as a beacon of Middlesbrough's intent.
The other four local authority areas are in line to get their Giants when they are able to secure funding; £13m more is needed for the remaining sculptures and Tees Valley Unlimited is the organisation shouldering the fundraising burden.
Concept designs for the companion Giants have already been submitted by Kapoor and Balmond - none of which are currently envisaged as being on the scale of Temenos - and their commitment to the over-arching project is clear.
'We declared right from the start that this was a 10-15 year project,' Kapoor says. 'I'm not at all concerned about how long it takes.'
Mayor of Middlesbrough, Ray Mallon, expressed his office's vision for the full set of Giants at Temenos' official unveiling: 'Failure is not an option because we're positive. We have the will, we have the belief. They will happen.'
Mallon also paid tribute to Kapoor and Balmond: 'In 200 year's time, people will talk about Anish and Cecil like they talk about Rembrandt.'
For the proponents of the artwork, Temenos is the latest in a series of sizeable sculptures and playful explorations of objects and space. It bears stylistic similarities with Kapoor's 2002 work Marsyas, which filled the Tate Modern's huge Turbine Hall: 'The work grows out of other work that I've done in recent years,' says Kapoor.
Seeking to explain the sculpture, Kapoor posits that, 'there will be a deeper value in this ephemeral project. The improbability is the connection: it's terribly simple at one level. The rings don't appear to be what they're supposed to be. There's a whole visual complication that happens'.
Temenos took five years of planning from initial concept to erection, in pursuit of what Kapoor describes as 'non-linear form' and 'new kinds of geometry'. Designed with computer modelling software and worked up from a real-life scale model, Temenos is an exercise in what Kapoor calls 'a series of attenuated forms'.
It's a language that Kapoor's business partner Balmond - the artist's engineering foil - understands well. Not that Balmond is unfamiliar with the extraordinary in his own work: his most recent project - the impossibly wonky CCTV New Headquarters in Beijing, twisted like a Moebius strip - appears to defy architectural logic and possibility.
'We had the idea of rings, of instability in the form, that in turn released the form,' says Balmond, standing beneath Temenos. He highlights the 'site specifity' of the design in terms of the location, referencing Middlesbrough's iconic Transporter Bridge, and how 'the language [of Temenos] feels industrial, maybe, but it soon transforms itself. It's enigmatic in the end. Beauty is released through a process'.
It's the process that is Balmond's primary concern in his partnership with Kapoor. To illustrate the point, Balmond points out the mast detail that was necessary to minimise the effects of the wind, a good deal of which is blowing around us as we stand exposed to the relentless Middlesbrough elements: 'The punctuation, the holes in the mast took weeks of just gazing to get right. And it does not affect the piece.'
Reflecting on his work with Kapoor, Balmond cites 'the dialogue, the philosophies' and how 'we spend a lot of time just talking' as the means by which decisions are made.
'I enjoy interrogating our fantasies,' he says, 'then there is the heavy pragmatic work of producing the piece.'
Balmond is enthusiastic about celebrating engineering as 'utopianism in language', in as much as the technical concerns are the same for all practitioners of the discipline. In his own work, however, he wants the engineering 'to disappear, to melt away', leaving the stage clear for the form to hold the attention.
Attention to detail
At the same time, there is great attention to detail. Gazing up at the Temenos mesh of steel cable, Balmond says: 'Every nut, bolt and flange is elegant, even though most people will never see them.'
The 'heavy pragmatic work' of installing the sculpture was done by civil engineering firm Balfour Beatty. Regional director Phil Morgan lays out the numbers associated with their aspect of the project: 'In constructing Temenos, we have covered a range of engineering disciplines. Piled foundations up to 24m deep support the 48m high, 180-tonne structure. Erection of the steelwork was followed by the installation of the cable net: specialist roped access contractors connected the stainless steel cables using 3,136 individual clamps (over 6,000 nuts and bolts) at heights of over 40m.'
Awarded the contract to construct Temenos in October 2008 (Morgan highlights the experience the company gained on the Infinity Bridge project in nearby Stockton- on-Tees), the initial phase involved discussions and design work with specialist sub-contractors, Freyssinet Limited, who were responsible for the non-linear analysis, fabrication and supply of the stainless steel cable net, and SH Structures, who fabricated all structural steelwork.
Construction on site got underway in May 2009, after analysis of the cable net and procurement and fabrication of the stainless steel components. At this stage, there were matters beyond erecting the artwork itself to occupy Balfour Beatty's mind, as Morgan recalls: 'The concrete bases required for the structure were constructed early and needed careful and accurate alignment to tight tolerances. Because of the complex erection sequence for the structural steelwork, a great deal of time was spent on the development of the temporary works needed to erect the structure. This involved the site team in planning the lifting operations, with the input of Tony Gee & Partners, and as well as using 700-tonne cranes, the final lifting of the steel ellipse was carried out using heavy winches.'
In terms of managing the project, Morgan breaks it down into distinct phases: 'There were four key operations. The first was the erection of the three main steelwork elements, using cranage. Secondly, the cable net was installed. Thirdly, the steel ellipse was winched into position and the final operation was to pull the circular ring back into its final position, thereby inducing the designed stress into the structure, causing it to take its final geometric form.'
Ultimately, it is Temenos's geometric form that overrides all other considerations: it's not a bridge, it's not a building, it's a work of art. It is a monumental sculpture commissioned by the city of Middlesbrough for the sole reason of attracting global attention to an overlooked corner of the UK in an effort to ignite its local regeneration efforts. With Temenos in situ, so far, so good.