The beast of Birmingham: The BT Tower


Everyone knows about the skyscrapers of London. The Shard has become the tallest building in Western Europe, while the Gherkin and Canary Wharf have long been icons of the capital’s skyline. But what about our second city, Birmingham? Let me introduce you to Brum’s tallest structure, the BT Tower…

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The 152 metre tall BT Tower is a true Brummie symbol and a classic piece of ’60s architecture. It’s visible for miles around, with its red lights blinking to warn pilots approaching Birmingham Airport.

The tower is on the fringes of the city-centre between the business district and the Jewellery Quarter, but is surprisingly hard to find. I walked around the area for a good ten minutes before I could locate the base. When I finally saw it, I was disappointed to find it fenced off with no-one around to ask about letting me in.

The nearest building to the tower is a block of serviced apartments – the security guard on reception there told me to try the BT building, “Telephone House”, which is a block away from the tower, on Newhall Street. I tried there, and spoke to the facilities manager, but he wouldn’t allow me in and wouldn’t tell me anything about it (other than repeating Dalek-style “I can confirm it is an operational building”). All very hush-hush – London’s BT Tower used to be so top secret, it did not even appear on maps of the city until the 1990s.

The last of the huge white satellite dishes, used to transmit television signals and phone calls, were removed from the top of the tower in 2012 as their work is now done using fibre-optic technology and a few smaller dishes.

This begs the question – is the tower still needed? Let’s hope so for the sake of the peregrine falcons, using it as their home.

I personally think the building’s owners are missing out on a trick, and need to diversify. People pay a staggering £68 to go up Dubai’s Burj Khalifa tower (reduced to £17 if booked in advance), while the views from the top of London’s Shard will set you back £30. The BT Tower may not be anywhere near as impressive as those two skyscrapers, and the view of spaghetti junction may not be as enticing as that of the River Thames or the palm-tree islands in The Gulf.

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But I’d happily pay a few quid to go up to an observation deck at the BT Tower, especially if there was a bar at the top with panoramic views of the West Midlands conurbation. I’ve been to similar tower bars across Europe – in Bratislava, Prague and Vilnius – these have given me a new perspective on the city and wider area below me, and have been the highlights (literally) of my trips there. I think our second city is crying out for a “BT bar”.

Here’s how it compares to other skyscrapers the world over for size:

828m Burj Khalifa (Dubai)
634m Tokyo Sky Tree
508m Taipei 101 (Taiwan)
451m Petronas Towers (Kuala Lumpur)
381m Empire State Building
310m The Shard
300m Eiffel Tower
235m Canary Wharf
189m London’s BT tower
180m The Gherkin
152m Birmingham’s BT tower
146m Great Pyramid of Giza
125m Blackpool Tower
2.01m Peter Crouch

The BT Tower as seen from the window of my office

The BT Tower as seen from the window of my office

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Categories: UK and IrelandTags: , ,

19 comments

  1. Good story but I can’t see it winning any top architectural design awards!

  2. I agree Richard. It seems a shame to have the tower lying there unused with the potential for an observation gallery. i wonder how big it is at the top and if there is space for a bar? Perhaps they could turn it into a museum about what these towers used to be for.
    I like the comparison with Peter Crouch!
    Thanks

  3. Well..with all those antennas it looks like a giant asparagus 🙂

    A tower, in UK, that really impressed me is the Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth!

  4. I’ll sign the petition if you start it, Rich.

  5. May they could incorporate a capsule hotel into the tower underneath the bar….? If it comes off I’ll meet you, Jo and Colin there for a drink (ex SS peeps) 🙂

  6. All that secrecy is quite mad, I remember when I started work at the Post Office, back when BT was Post Office Telephones we had a list of countries running from Albania to Vietnam that if we were to visit them we had to be debriefed by security on our return in case those dreadful communists discovered the secrets of walk sorting.

  7. I went up the top of London’s BT tower and the views were great, shame they don’t make more use of this one. You can never have too many observation deck bars!

  8. The inside of the tower is not that impressive. There is no continuous staircase, instead you have to ‘stagger’ between floors to get up. The top (so I’ve been told) is quite small so a bar would be unlikely considering the equipment is still live.
    The tower forms part of BT’s national emergency comms network so will remain active for the near future.
    The public are not allowed in as it is a place of work, but more so…..you never know what you may find beneath it! Ever wondered what those suspicious air vents & door ways around the city are for ???

  9. I’ve heard other rumours that Birmingham – ever keen to appease the CAA who have effectively long killed off any prospects of the city having skyscrapers more than 100m high [seven key major tower schemes having bit the dust years ago] – will propose dismantling the BT Tower once it is completely redundant – as well as demolishing many other existing tall towers in the city such as the Nat West, Five Ways, McLaren (Post and Mail and the Aston Univ residential towers already having long gone). That way it can at least be consistent in trying to erase all remnants of its 60s and 70s concrete/glass legacy which it is so clearly ashamed of (see also Inner Ring Road / Queensway / Paradise Circus and other underpasses and flyovers, the old Bull Ring Centre, New Street Pallasades, Central Library, Martineau Square etc etc) – and simply replace everything with bland at-grade boulevards, lots of pedestrian traffic lights, low rise buildings no more than 12 storeys high at best – and many other proposals which will merely reinforce Birmingham’s reputation as a forward thinking city which prefers to simply play it very safe….unlike dynamic rival cities like Manchester and Leeds for instance who ARE planning dramatic additions to their skylines and/or transport infrastructures. Birmingham may still be the second city in terms of its population, but in terms of its infrastructure and way of thinking/presentation it’s more like the 5th city of the UK these days.

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