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The Good, The Standard, The Ugly: The CIS Tower

Part 2: The CIS Tower

Published on June 13th 2007.


The Good, The Standard, The Ugly: The CIS Tower

Good, standard or ugly? Good, Goodissimo, Excellent

What: The CIS Tower was opened in 1962 by the Duke of Edinburgh it was for a time the tallest office block in northern Europe at 122m (400ft). Grade II listed, it’s a beauty, as fresh as the day it was completed.

Why and who: The brief from the Cooperative Insurance Society was for an office block that could compete with the best in London or New York whilst providing the city with a building that pointed to the future. The architects were GS Hay of the CWS and Gordon Tait of Sir John Burnet, Tait and Partners. They took a design from Chicago of the Inland Steel Building by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill and filled the aforementioned brief exactly. Constructed from black enamelled steel, glass, aluminium and mosaic it remains the best of the tall buildings in Manchester from the sixties and seventies. It also balances that other great tall building of Manchester, Beetham Tower. Viewed from east or west the city centre is anchored by these two lanky lovelies.

Daylight power: Some mosaic work remains but the majority of it has been removed and replaced by photo-voltaic panels. As it was a listed building this was a bit naughty but hey, if you play the environmental card - less of a carbon footprint or something - then you can get away with anything. Cleverly you also get a government grant, which all helps in the refurbishment costs. The panels convert daylight (not just sunshine) into energy which according to a stat I once read is the equivalent of 10 million cups of tea brewed annually. Who comes up with these facts? Replacing the mosaics might have been naughty from a purist point of view but it has emphasised the structure for many a marching past Mancunian.

Missed opportunity: One of the sweetest spaces in the city used to be the twenty-fourth floor at the top of the CIS tower which formed the executive dining area. Then a few years ago the decision was taken to turn this into more offices. What happened to the lovely furniture remains a mystery – do any readers know? With this act of thoughtless destruction the CIS betrayed their own heritage in conceiving of the magnificent building in the first place. They missed a trick too. They could have opened Cloud 24 and trumped Cloud 23. In the high-dining game size matters and with more floor space and extra height the queues awaiting judgement from the clipboard inquisition might have swung north.

A beautiful pair: Some commentators think the way the service tower of the building rises above the rest of the structure gives the CIS the profile of an eagle. This sort of fits. Atop the tower is an occasional nest of peregrine falcons. You can see these wheeling too and fro and then dropping like a stone, on the backs of pigeons. Good for them. A while ago an RSPCB officer found the old CIS sign filled with flying rat remains from peregrine lunching. And also the remains of a pair of kestrels the falcons had decided to chew on as well. Clearly birds of prey don’t form cooperative societies.

Hang ‘em high: Gordo of Manchester Confidential has a good story about the CIS. The family had a friend called Drew Barlow. Mr Barlow invented the first vertical blinds – Luva Drapes - and didn’t know what to do with them. Then the CIS ordered 90,000 for their shiny new building. Nice. The rumour is that he was so pleased he got blind drunk - but he pulled himself together later.

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

SharonJune 13th 2007.

I love this building. Coming from the Bradford into Victoria it always tells me I've arrived in Manchester for a night out. It's a sort of landmark for a good time.

Rob RightJune 13th 2007.

Poor quality building that typifies the small town mentality to be found in the UK's 8th biggest mill town of Manchester.

Jonathan Schofield - EditorJune 13th 2007.

If you post as we're changing we get the problem. It's all in the timing. Big apologies again, we're sorting it.

LoxieJune 13th 2007.

Love this building - hate Beetham tower.

HenryJune 13th 2007.

sorry. It only happened with this one article. the one with the negative comments. OK. damned technical glitches, eh. apologies. thought youd gone back already

HenryJune 13th 2007.

question: is thats true and you are not still censoring, why when you changed mark e smiths pic a few times did that not lose the posts? why when you changed your score on your food review, did the one by anon pointing out the error not go missing til later?

Nick G'June 13th 2007.

With the new solar panels this building is really cool. Before, it just scared away many people with its brutal concrete service shaft. The refurbishment, to me, represents how Manchester has developed from a place to avoid, to a place to come to.

Jonathan Schofield - EditorJune 13th 2007.

Henry. Sorry about that. I added a caption on a photograph and when it was re-posted we lost the comment. Please put it back up, it's a technical issue we're looking into.

AnonymousJune 13th 2007.

I work in the Co-op and every now and again get to go to meetings in the the board-room on the 24th floor. It's an amazing example of 1970s design with inch thick shag carpets. Well worth a visit.

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