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Is Beetham Tower beautiful?

Towering delight or monumental failure?

Published on August 7th 2009.


Is Beetham Tower beautiful?
Yes: - 50%
No: - 50%

An office conversation.

A “So the Confidential folk were wandering merrily through Castlefield on Thursday evening when, lo!, the heavens spread themselves out in reds and golds to the west. The buildings burst on fire. It was beautiful. But one stood out. Shone out.

“Beetham Tower, Hilton Tower, call it what you will, was the centrepiece of the sunset revelation. This splendid slice of slender simplicity was enhanced and made magical: textured by the open windows, it looked almost mystical as it coloured with the sunset. It stood proud like a monolith from some massive ancient temple, a totem ripe for worship.”

B “A monolith is right. A dull extended rectangle with a useless flange on the top. So simple it’s an insult to the imagination. A kid could have dreamt this up and then rejected it in a minute for being boring? What did it cost - £150m, yer what? How high is it - 171m and 47 storeys tall? I wish it were three storeys high or simply gone. Forget the monolith it’s more like a tombstone marking the grave of design in this area of the city.

A “No imagination, what are you talking about? Viewed from side on its slim shape is exciting, terrifying almost. How does it remain standing in high winds? And that flange on the top does a marvellous job of balancing out the overhang below where the Hilton bar, Cloud 23, is located. At night it does another thing too, by having apartments in the top 60% rather than hotel rooms or offices it gives Manchester an evening landscape high in the sky as the rooms are lit.”

B “That might work better if we had four or five other apartment blocks as tall, then we’d have a proper city landscape of tall buildings. As it is, our most prominent landmark (much bigger than the second tallest tower – the CIS at 118m) can be seen twenty miles away and is devoid of inspiration. The place must boil on the inside on hot days if a recent visit to Cloud 23 on a hot day was anything to go by. So it fails as a working building too.

A “Well at least you agree that this feast of engineering is a landmark. To me it performs that most difficult of tricks, it does simple well. And surely you must like the interior public spaces, the restaurant, the stairs and the reception, which are so crisp and modern?”

B “They're fine but derivative, pure fifties and sixties, the Whitworth Art Gallery does that sort of thing better. Most people only know the place from the outside though. And as for being a landmark - anything can be a landmark, a slagheap, or a city tip. Being a landmark doesn’t excuse Beetham Tower from being externally very very dull, sunset or not.”

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47 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

TomAugust 7th 2009.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as someone once said. I personally find it quite beautiful, especially on a clear night if the moon is out when you can sometimes see it reflecting off the tower. As mentioned, it gives the city a distinct landmark visible for miles, and is hopefully precursor to other buildings of a similar height.On a side note, the sunset last night was fantastic. The balcony on my flat is lucky enough to face in the direction of the setting sun and it lit up the sky beautifully.

i knows what i likesAugust 7th 2009.

You're right Tom, it is total eye of beholder stuff. I can't bear it! The overhang has more than a whiff of architectual masturbation. It's as if the architect is saying "look at me, aren't I clever. I can make a building look as though it shouldn't stand up". Personally, I find it pedestrian. Dull, dull, dull. I agree though that it may work better if we had some more buildings of the same kind of height but with a bit more ooomph.

i knows what i likesAugust 7th 2009.

Ooh, I'm warming to my theme now. Why shouldn't Manchester be the Chicago or Frankfurt of Britain. We have the warehouses of the city centre, why not also have a skyscraping quarter? We haven't got a river to put an impressive bridge over. We haven't got an awful lot of green space in the city centre for landmark parks, so why not build up? Let's get a skyline for Manchester as recognisable as New York's or San Francisco!

AnonymousAugust 7th 2009.

Having spent some time in Shanghai where they are really pushing the boundaries, i personally find it a little bland even tame. Over time though I have found it has grown on me and I know longer see it as an eyesore. Unfortunately the 'Chips Development' reported elsewhere needs levelling and the architect shooting.

LeeAugust 7th 2009.

Isnt it funny how easy people find it to find fault in new design, doing something different than the usual crap that's built

i knows what i likesAugust 7th 2009.

Lee, I think the point that both anon and I are making is that the beetham tower is bland, and pedestrian, while at the same time (i reckon) a bit ****y... I'm all for doing something different - I'd love to see some interesting, exciting high rise buildings in Manchester. As it is we've got one massive dull one. the other thing is of course that it is all subjective - personal tastes.

DaveAugust 7th 2009.

If "pushing the boundaries" is doing all that blingy se asian /saudi stuff, I'm glad we've settled for "bland". Post-crunch, it's sure to get some tall companions then it won't look so odd, stuck out on its own like that.

gordonisamoronAugust 7th 2009.

Very, very dull architecture. Utterly uninspiring, unlike the Manchester Civil Justice Centre which, quite rightly, has a hat full of awards.

CasAugust 7th 2009.

I like it, always have. However it is a shame about the sub standard flats. How anyone can justify a 2 bed apartment only needs 625 sqft is beyond me! Stayed in the hotel a few times too, for a change, and it's pretty good. The suites are very well designed and are probably bigger than some of the apartments! Anyway, has anyone else noticed the place makes it's own climate - that crossroads in the windiest place on Earth.

AnonymousAugust 7th 2009.

Whilst i loved Shanghai's skyline and find the pudong district fascinating i will also be the first to admit that part of the world has more than a few 'chips' . Maybe as with most art its about context. BTW after seeing some of the 'sh1t' will alsop has dropped on other cities maybe we got off quite lightly !!

SteAugust 7th 2009.

We could have got better for the money spent. I understand it cost a similar amount to Norman Fosters' Gherkin in London which stands alone much more successfully. Although pleasing viewed from some angles, from a distance, Beetham looks almost awkward, and that fin shaped thingy on the roof looks cheap and stuck on as an after thought! Not sure it delivers the sleek form the architect claimed he was after.

simon9350August 7th 2009.

Manchester needs a great statement building, and the Beetham Tower is not it. How a building can be made so dull and lifeless i find difficult to imagine. And the apartments are a complete joke. It is the kind of building we will be looking to demolish in 30 years time - like the poorest 60's efforts.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Ghostly TomJuly 20th 2012.

I like the Hilton Tower. It will be around for a long while. It has become an icon that gets used to promote the city elsewhere now. But I do agree that we need a stunner of a building like The Gherkin to say 'Manchester.'

CasAugust 7th 2009.

Right this is getting silly now. I don't like the apartments, my view is the building is great. Others may have different views but honestly the 'it's rubbish, dull, boring, cheap' comments are a bit over the top. I don't think one tower was meant to launch the City into a new international era. It has certainly birghtened up an area of the city that needed it and has brought another much needed quality hotel. There are too many people in this city, mostly those out in the suburbs though, always ready to knock the latest thing. It's just so bloody typical of Northeners, and I'm a very proud one. 'i know what i likes' says it should have been more interesting, exciting, it's a bit bland but also says the overhang is 'architectual masturbation', eh, make no sense moi? The place wasn't built as a public service, it's a business and perhaps if we don't all sit in judgement calling the thing vile, other companies may feel welcome to come build bigger, brasher ones and we'll end up with something fantastic. How we can criticise it for being the first one, all on it's own is also beyond me. If we keep calling everything sh*t, we'll end up with a city full of sh*t and we'll deserve it. We can then all sit back and whinge in peace about how we're not competing well enough as a city. (can I come and see the Olive Tree now Mr Simpson, please?)

AnonymousAugust 7th 2009.

The Beetham perfectly reflects the power and solidity of surrounding structures and in my view is the ideal response to its setting. A genuine landmark building in every sense. Love it!

Pedro1874August 7th 2009.

I have to admit my first thought on seeing the design was "Target" I was never comfortable when walking close to it but have grown more complacement latterly. Awesome when close yes. Beautiful inspirational contemporary architecture NO!

BigglesAugust 7th 2009.

I think it's awful, aesthetically and representatively. I’m not sure how folk can say that yet another glass and steel box (all be it a massive one) is in any way beautiful or architecturally challenging. There’s thousands across Manchester already. It actually looked better and more interesting when it was under construction. I also don’t agree with Cas saying that people complaining about a lack of style or flair within the design would discourage more adventurous architects, that doesn’t seem to make any sense. The very best thing about the building is the views from inside. I do think it’s awful that the most prominent landmark of the city for miles is a place where so few of the cities residents will ever get to go, unless willing to shell out £8 for a single drink. Ian Simpson sits up there like Sauron looking down on povery stricken areas, surrounded by a load of dead olive trees. I agree with Bishop Stephen Lowe, it casts a shadow over our city, but gives nothing in return. What’s there to be proud of?

1 Response: Reply To This...
Ghostly TomJuly 20th 2012.

Bishops should stick to talking about God. They have no business as architecture critics!

GrahamAugust 7th 2009.

I think it looks good but i would like it even more if it could transform into a robot or something. (Preferably not a Deceptacon)

Ali McGowanAugust 7th 2009.

When I went to Cloud 23 recently, it was also boiling. I had to ask the waiter to turn the aircon on, which he duly did. He wasn't even called Julie. I was pleased he turned it on, but rather surprised no one else had, nor that no other customer had asked for it... it was sweltering. BUT anyway, on with the actual debate. I am afraid... that I love the Beetham Tower. Like a pimple on the bottom of humanity, it grew on me. When it was being built I thought 'cor, that's MASSIVE, I bet it will look mint!!'... then when it was ready I was a bit gutted. But over time I have grown to love it to bits. It's a true beacon of our great city - you can see it from well outside the M60 - it's great seeing it lit up at night as you come over the Snake Pass... it points me to home. The design at first is a bit of a mess on the south face, but when you come to appreciate it as a true 'mixed-use' building, you realise, as pointed out, that it has a life of it's own upstairs, with lights, TVs and computers making it look literally lived in. As for the overall design - it's pretty slick, pretty simple and because it's regularly cleaned, it still looks shiny and new. How many new blocks go up and within a couple of years are all grimy because the owners are too cheapo to keep it clean? One final delight is how thin the tower is - I believe it's one of the thinnest towers in the world. Over and out. It gets about 8.5/10 from me.

SteAugust 7th 2009.

Im all in favour of more glass and steel. Also massively in favour of Manchester getting a proper skyline. I think Beetham will look better when its eventually accompanied by counter weights on said skyline - I was really disappointed the planned 'scraper for next to Piccadilly station got shelved due to the crunch. Thought that would have offered more balance and a reference point to Beetham . Thats my only critisism of it, that on its own, it looks a bit top heavy in a low rise city. The one planned for Piccadilly would have looked better and sleeker if it had to be on its own. Here's hoping the crunch doesn't kill these plans for good.

DidsburyGirlAugust 7th 2009.

Its grown on me the longer its been up, but i'm still giggling at Biggles likening Ian Simpson to Sauron. Bwah!

Gandalf the GayAugust 7th 2009.

The Sauron analogy is absolute genius I agree.

Sad MosAugust 7th 2009.

It's fitted with "devices" which would help prevent a 9/11-esque 'plane attack, as are various building in Larndarn. Apparently.

Gandalf the GayAugust 7th 2009.

Sad Mos, do you really think that a few Islamicists could get past Sauron the Great.

AnonymousAugust 7th 2009.

The windows look f*cking awful. They seem to have had some sort of patten planned (from the shape of the frosting on the panes of glass) but then when they went up it's all over the place. Looks terrible. Nice to have a skyscraper though, just wish it wasn't made up of yuppie flats, a terrible rip off bar and waste of space hotel.

CasAugust 7th 2009.

What devices? Surely if a plane flies into a building, there isn't anything that can stop it?!

Jonah ThompsonAugust 7th 2009.

Anonymous, what would you have if not apartments or a hotel? A massive laboratory, a big funfair, a vast kebab rotisserie. I put it to you sir that you aren't very clever. Flats are great as they are lighted at night and animate the place.

DidsburyGirlAugust 7th 2009.

Maybe he wants a place to store a vast army of Orcs? Or maybe a new setting for the Christmas Markets? I could definatley see the sausage stall in Cloud 23

Sad MosAugust 7th 2009.

Well it's my understanding that there are measures in place that would "disrupt" a plane aiming for the tower. You'd hope these measures don't equate to; save the tower at the expense of somewhere nearby. That said, Salford is nearby :o)

AeronAugust 7th 2009.

Completely agree with you Ste. The city skyline will be greatly enhanced if Piccadilly Tower ever gets back off the ground. Here's hoping.

cassellAugust 7th 2009.

the sleak design is an icon for the city, something a new yorker would be proud of, i think it look stunning against the new and old buildings of the city

ELAugust 7th 2009.

But it doesn't look stunning against the other buildings; it totally dominates the landscape - there's very little else even half its size.

DescartesAugust 7th 2009.

Exactly El. If there were a few more Skyscrapers in Manchester then fair enough, but as it is, well, it looks sad and lonely and out of place. Given the state of the economy I very much doubt we'll ever get a second building like it, and I'd sooner knock it down.

AnonymousAugust 7th 2009.

I love it!

MalHAugust 7th 2009.

Yes, you have it in one phrase - a distinctive landmark - distinctive like a very large brick or an oversized shoe box. Yes it is tall and yes you can see it for miles around and yes hopefully it will lead to more - but let us hope that what any new buildings bring is something dittinctive. This is Manchester not Milton Keynes

i knows what I likesAugust 7th 2009.

Ouch Cas - sorry you didn't like my comment! I don't think it's contradictory to say that it's dull while at the same time architectural showing off, by which I mean the apparent deliberate way in which it has been designed to look as though it is top heavy is all a bit 1970s San Francisco architecture competition to me. Of course not having the all seeing power and wisdom of Ian Simpson I could be wrong. But as I've stressed before, it's different strokes for different folks. If it had a few similarly sized cousins, but which DO actually push aesthetics and design a bit more then it'll be fine. It just reminds me a lot of the skyscrapers of the 70's - function but with little flair. Superarchitecture has moved on since then (look, as referenced above, at the beautiful, stunning Gherkin for an example) and it's a pity that Manchester's first superstructure is stuck in the past. I'm glad that those who love it, love it. Those of us who don't, IF it's the start of a new tall Manchester then it doesn't really matter. But, looking out my office window now (out of the city a bit, but with a great view of my town, all our big buildings are a bit of a let down - with the exception of the marvellous new courts.

BobAugust 7th 2009.

The wonky box (as it's known in Salford) is big, but boring. The designers must have been great salesmen.....

Sad MosAugust 7th 2009.

Erm that's actually what I'd been told too "Bill". That planes have "terrain avoidance" systems that pull up automatically, and that the tower can set it off. Dunno the details but I've heard this too.

ChorltonDaveAugust 7th 2009.

If these plane things really have this "terrain avoidance" system then they're going to be in the air an awful long time!

jimjamAugust 7th 2009.

Heathens. It's great. Imposing, modern, functional, and a feat of engineering to witness everyday. There's nothing not to like about it. True, the skyline does need more towers to balance it out, but the proposed building next to Piccadilly was hardly a stunner. It's a shame the little glass shard of offices grond to a halt on the triangular plot next to Deansgate Locks, that would have been a fitting neighbour.

east lancsAugust 7th 2009.

They do indeed. It's called the "Ground Proximity Warning System" and has been fitted to planes for a long time. They can (and do, it's happened to me) cause the autopilot to engage and pull up.

scoteeeAugust 7th 2009.

Yeah yeah,far too much time on MS flight sim eastlancs!:@P

DescartesAugust 7th 2009.

Any thinking person knows that's done down the pub.

OAugust 7th 2009.

To me the Beetham Tower represents Manchester's progress towards being a world class city. I don't agree that it's dull or boring. It's a striking building.

ChrisAugust 7th 2009.

I don't particularly like it, but it's not too offensive. However, any time I have been travelling for a long time, it is always a welcome sight to see Beetham Tower on the horizon- meaning I'm almost home!

AnonymousAugust 7th 2009.

I really like it. The only thing that concerns me is that Manchester will end up with lots of other tall buildings vying for the 'city's tallest building' accolade. I'd really hate to see that.

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