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Roof Of MCR: Taking Pics On The CIS Tower

Jonathan Schofield looks down at fresh air over the city on one of his favourite buildings

Published on January 31st 2014.

Roof Of MCR: Taking Pics On The CIS Tower

LUCKY. This is lucky.

To stand on the very roof of the CIS Tower, in the fresh air, not boxed in by glass is a boon that isn't often granted. 

Of course it's usually blowing a gale. But it's magnificent. Wales to the south west, Pennines north and east, the Cheshire Plain into Staffordshire to the south. 

Constructed from black enamelled steel, glass, aluminium and mosaic it remains the best of the tall buildings in Manchester from the sixties and seventies. I

It's a special moment on a special building.

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

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.

Chicago's Inland Steel BuildingChicago's Inland Steel Building

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.

Some mosaic work remains at lower levels 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.

Crumbling mosaics from the original buildingCrumbling mosaics at ground level from the original design

The twenty-third and twenty-fourth floors, almost the very top of the tower, are the most impressive interior areas. These are panelled with lovely pale wood inspired by the best Scandinavian interiors of the time:Ikea eat your heart out this is the real deal.

The twenty-fourth floor was the executive dining area and here the CIS missed a trick. They could have opened these areas as Cloud 24, a high level bar and dining area, and trumped Cloud 23. In the high-dining game altitude matters and with more floor space and extra height the queues awaiting judgement from any clipboard inquisition might have swung north.

Original woodOriginal wood

That aside a few curiosities remain such as the meeting rooms that contain not plasma screens or the latest in powerpoint technology but behind panel doors a blackboard. There's a work by Lowry too.

In the entrance hall a bronzed fibreglass mural by William Mitchell is so of its time you want to break into an impromptu rendition of 'Please, Please Me'. We recently wrote about another William Mitchell work here.

A 1960s powerpoint presentationA 1960s powerpoint presentation

Gordo of Manchester Confidential has a good story about the CIS. The family had a friend called Drew Barlow. Barlow invented the first vertical blinds – Luva Drapes - and didn’t know what to do with them. Then the CIS ordered thousands for their shiny new building.

The rumour is that Barlow was so pleased he got blind drunk - but he pulled himself together later.

This story from early 2013 has been re-published with the night-time picture from One Angel Square, two below.

Toasting the opening back in the long long ago, looking down over the CathedralToasting the opening back in the long long ago, looking down over the Cathedral

The majesty of the CIS from One Angel SquareThe majesty of the CIS from One Angel Square


Going upGoing up

Grey is the day but dramatic tooGrey is the day but dramatic too

Angel Square's sweet sweepAngel Square's sweet sweep

Shoulder of Angel SquareShoulder of Angel Square

Not a ride but the sweep of Angel Square over St Michael's Flags parkNot a ride but the sweep of Angel Square over St Michael's Flags park

Slopes and roofsSlopes and roofs

Girder down to groundGirder down to ground

Strangeways here we comeStrangeways here we come

She looks a big girlShe looks a big girl

Spire and towersSpire and towers

Not a patio in a garden somewhere but paving up in the skyNot a patio in a garden somewhere but paving up in the sky

View southView south

1962 graffiti from when the CIS Tower was finished1962 graffiti from when the CIS Tower was finished

Track to oblivionTrack to oblivion

Honestly I just couldn't get enough of taking these pictures down the girdersHonestly I just couldn't get enough of taking these pictures down the girders

Crumbling mosaics from the original buildingCrumbling mosaics from the original building

William Mitchell's bronzed fibreglass mural in the entrance hallWilliam Mitchell's bronzed fibreglass mural in the entrance hall

Burnt out building onn Oldham Street being demolised after the recent fireBurnt out building onn Oldham Street being demolised after the recent fire

The buses dancingThe buses dancing

Great Ancoats Street from on highGreat Ancoats Street from on high

Another grim LowryAnother grim Lowry - possibly called 'Man erects unfeasible stepladder to nowhere'


Back to earthBack to earth

CIS at sunsetCIS at sunset


You can follow Jonathan Schofield on Twitter here @JonathSchofield or connect via Google+

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

Calum McGApril 25th 2013.


TimetoshineApril 25th 2013.

Next thing you know you'll be joining in with the urban exploration boys over on 28dayslater.co.uk. Great pics by the way!

David Michael EvansApril 26th 2013.

The Beetham Tower despite being over 40 years newer, is very ugly, and unattractive compared to the CIS. The CIS has integrity in its design and appearance..the Beetham Tower is mishapen with that ugly overhang halfway up and the stupid vanes at the top...like what are they for?...almost any tall building in China, the Far East generally or the US is more attractive...a wasted opportunity.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
Calum McGApril 29th 2013.

I love the Beetham Tower... :) That is all.

Ghostly TomJanuary 31st 2014.

I love the Hilton Tower as well. More please! Even taller would be good...

Manc GuyApril 26th 2013.

I've never liked the CIS building and it looks even uglier and more dated. It suits Chicago not Manchester. The Nazis have still got a lot to answer for. Parker Street for one thing. Some post war, 60's and 70's buildings are just dreadful eg. the original Arndale and its tower, Albert Bridge House, and the Renaissance Hotel at the end of Deansgate.

Beetham tower's ugly and it's just too tall for the city. They're spending a fortune replacing some of those huge glass windows already.

6 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousApril 26th 2013.

Total bollocks.

AnonymousApril 28th 2013.

I think I'm great, even though I know that I have a personality only a mother could love.

AnonymousApril 30th 2013.

So are you saying that the nazis fled germany after the war to set up in manchester as town planners and architects? sounds like a daily mail editorial to me.

AnonymousMay 1st 2013.

What is the relevance of the second Anonymous 217 is relationship with their mother?

Manc GuyMay 2nd 2013.

I'm saying that Fifth Column placed a homing beacon on a Parker Steet rooftop in December 1940 for the Luftwaffe to home in on, for the sole purpose of making that side of post war Piccadilly, Manchester look bloody awful. The only Nazi that never returned to Germany after the war was Bert Trautmann, and City thought the world of him, even though he'd killed British soldiers some years earlier.<br /><br />The football chant &#34;Trautmann was a Nazi&#34; never really caught on though.

Ghostly TomJanuary 31st 2014.

Albert Bridge House is rather attractive I think...

AnonymousApril 26th 2013.

Interesting artical and pictures.

AnonymousApril 26th 2013.

Great stuff...Our city is NOT easy on the eye but you have to LOVE it!!

3 Responses: Reply To This...
Manc GuyApril 28th 2013.

No...no you don't.

AnonymousApril 29th 2013.

If you don't like it, make it better - or leave!

Manc GuyApril 29th 2013.

I love my city, but I don't like the CIS tower.

Mark.April 27th 2013.

Imagine if he fell off.

James SmithApril 28th 2013.

It ain't getting any better looking is it. SORT IT OUT PLEASE? It's not that difficult is it? Is it??

3 Responses: Reply To This...
Manc GuyApril 28th 2013.

Here, here JAMES.

AnonymousApril 29th 2013.

You mean 'hear, hear'.

Manc GuyApril 29th 2013.

Or hear, hear even.

Jonathan SchofieldApril 29th 2013.

What's not getting any better looking folks? And Mark I did fall off. Fortunately I landed on a marshmallow.

1 Response: Reply To This...
CobbydalerMay 2nd 2013.

All non alphanumeric stuff in the rants e.g. &#163; &#34; etc.

IanJanuary 31st 2014.

I've been lucky enough to abseil down the CIS tower. Amazing experience. What about an article about the network of tunnels beneath the Co-op complex? It's a fascinating otherworld down there.

Ghostly TomJanuary 31st 2014.

It is a classy building and the blue solar panels have only added to its appeal. Manchester's skyline would be poorer without it....

crisbyJanuary 31st 2014.

Good article and pics. In my view it's one of the best post war modernist buildings in the country. I like Beetham too, though I thought I was going to hate it when it started going up, and up. Piccadilly Plaza was a fine architectural concept that didn't work because the shopping precinct wasn't thought out properly and the whole place was allowed to get tatty. And thanks, Ghostly Tom , for the reminder about Albert Bridge House. It would scrub up nicely if the civil service moved out, and stands up well against most of the stuff that's gone up in the last 5-6 years.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Ghostly TomJanuary 31st 2014.

I think ABH is wearing well and is a very pleasing building. I.m coming round to all the 60s architecture especially things under some threat like The Toast Rack and the buildings on the old UMIST Campus...

AnonymousFebruary 2nd 2014.

Some great memories worked on there as an apprentice. The 1963 winter was freezing 18 floors up with no windows in VERY cold wind blowing through.

Brian LeapmanFebruary 2nd 2014.

That sounds cold. But it's a lovely building I find, rain or shine. Uplifting - literally.

David Michael EvansFebruary 3rd 2014.

The CIS Building is outstanding. The Beetham Tower and Arndale Centre are ugly. The Beetham Tower is about the ugliest tall building anywhere. That stupid grill-like vane on top...what's that about? The inelegant overhang halfway up. A great opportunity squandered to give Manchester an exciting new tall building.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Ghostly TomFebruary 4th 2014.

I like the sheer glacial glass facades, I like the overhang and the vane that give the building it's character. I love the way you can see it from all over Manchester and beyond but sometimes completely disappears in the city centre. It is beautiful. The city needs more tall buildings. A cluster at the end of Deansgate/Chester Road would be stunning. More please...

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