After his last experience in northern England, the designer Thomas Heatherwick could be forgiven for keeping his works of public art within the safer confines of London.
His £1.4m Blue Carpet, which threw a 300m-wide square of blue, glass-splintered tiles across a pavement in Newcastle, was set alight by arsonists three years ago, causing £10,000 worth of damage to 100 of the tiles.
Unabashed, Heatherwick returns to the streets with a bang - literally - on Wednesday as Manchester inaugurates a 56 metre-tall porcupine-like sculpture, three times the height of Antony Gormley's Angel of the North, which he has created for a site beside the Commonwealth Games stadium now occupied by Manchester City.
It is an engineering feat laden with superlatives: the 180 chopstick-shaped tubes at its core are a more complex construction than anything accomplished before in steel, according to Heatherwick's Sheffield fabricators, who dispatched the core structure across the Pennines on the largest lorry permitted on British roads. The end product stands taller than any other sculpture in Britain and leans over the ground at an alarming 30-degree angle - 10 times steeper than Pisa's Leaning Tower.
Heatherwick's design - called B of the Bang - commemorates the spirit of the 2002 Games and takes its name from Linford Christie's comment that, to win a race, an athlete must start "on the B of the bang". In part, the huge scale was dictated by the site that the City Council commissioned it for - a windy plain near the stadium and Europe's biggest Asda store in the half-demolished eastern outpost of Beswick.
"If we had not pushed the scale, you would not have noticed it," Heatherwick says. "We had to help make this area feel less dominated by a single object. It called for a response on the same scale of the stadium."
With a brief to commemorate the Games and provide a catalyst for regeneration, he said he needed to deliver "something that no one had done before", so that "if you saw it from the train, you would think, 'What is it?'"
Opinion has varied wildly. Last year, the Manchester Evening News canvassed its readers' views of the piece. Responses included "utterly monstrous", "rusting hulk" and "S of the Scaffold". The leader of the Liberal Democrat opposition at the Town Hall, Simon Ashley, concluded: "This is not the kind of thing we should be wasting our money on." The detractors, it should be said, were in a minority.
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