“Sorry ’bout me building!”

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Beetham Tower, in Manchester. (YouTube.com)

[This post goes onto my blog but not out to my blog send list recipients until my email server quits intercepting my bulk posts under the suspicion that they are spam. I am sorry to say that for the time being those who want to read my posts will have to visit my blog, or get them on social media. I will see if I can send to TradArch and Pro-Urb lists without punishment. – David Brussat]

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High winds in Manchester, England, whistle past the 47-story Beetham Tower, causing it to emit a low-pitched moan (said to be in the key of “B below middle C”). “What’s the loud noise in the city centre? The Beetham Tower whistle, of course” is how the Manchester Evening News reported this recurrent civic horror, apparently caused by the wind “playing” a steel blade at the building’s crest, described by Wikipedia as “a façade overrun accentuating [the tower’s] slim form.”

Here is the YouTube video of the singing skyscraper.

When the Beetham opened in 2006, one critic said it “torpedoed” any hope of Manchester garnering coveted status as a UNESCO World Heritage City. The building’s designer, SimpsonHaugh & Partners, cites its form as a symbol of Manchester’s post-industrial revival. When the building proved also to have a set of pipes that might turn green the gills of the singer Tom Jones (Sir Thomas is still belting it out at 75), SH&P’s Ian Simpson, who lives in a Beetham penthouse, apologized to the city.

When’s the last time an architect apologized? (The profession’s credo is “Never Apologize, Always Explain.”)

The building’s whistle may be obnoxious but modern architecture lays claim to utility as its credo. The noise is clearly intended as a warning siren to alert Mancunians of high winds afoot. Rather than criticize it, the city should reject Ian Simpson’s apology.

Perhaps the Beetham Tower also utilises the wind-tunnel effect to create a stiff breeze to maintain pedestrian verticality and locomotion. The wind at their backs! How useful as they stroll downtown Manchester, ever at risk of fainting from the ugliness of the Beetham Choir! Modernism’s utility to the rescue!

Hat-tips to Cliff Vanover and Jules Pitt for sending this story to me and to the TradArch list.

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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6 Responses to “Sorry ’bout me building!”

  1. Michael Behrendt says:

    It’s not the noise that bothers me but the building itself. Is this built? Is there a chance it won’t be built? What a rotten structure. It will destroy the skyline and probably the commercial market. Despicable.

    Like

    • Agreed. Alas, the building is built, the neighbors’ peace is shattered and the city’s skyline is junked. But this happens every time a modernist high-rise goes up, whether or not it makes an obnoxious noise.

      Like

  2. Arthur Mark says:

    David, Is there no way for architects to know that their structure may be exposed to wind that will resonate as sound pollution of the environment. Shouldn’t all structures planned pass a pollution test?

    Arthur >

    Like

  3. 36 years ago, my mother was blown over and knocked unconscious by the winds swirling around the Hancock in Boston. The first thing building security wanted to know is whether she had been on their property, or still on the public sidewalk.

    Like

    • My first attendance at a meeting of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, where I had just been asked to join the board, was in a glass and steel highrise in downtown Boston. Trying to find the door, I turned and slammed into a plate glass window. I hit hard enough to be bewildered for several moments, but nobody came out to help me. I did finally find the door.

      Like

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