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…
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.
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