The BT Tower is a focal point in central London recognised by commuters, city dwellers and tourists alike.
The circular structure stands 189 metres high (about the same distance as 20 double-decker buses parked end to end).
When its construction began in the Sixties, fears were raised that its height and modern style would be out of keeping with the tone of the area. The BT Tower stands in a region known as Fitzrovia, a haven for artists, writers and aristocrats during previous centuries. However, the Royal Fine Arts Commission, one of the BT Tower's original detractors, now describes it as "building of merit."
The main purpose of the building is as a functional telecommunications centre designed to relay broadcast, Internet and telephone information around the world. Plans for its creation date back to the 1936 Post Office Sites Act, which ordered the purchase of the site. The land deals were ongoing when World War Two began in 1939 and proceedings ground to a halt.
When building work finally began on April 4, 1961, the telecommunications revolution was beginning. The BT Tower was packed with technology – from radio equipment in the lower floors to the lattice aerial on the top. The circular design was chosen to aid alignment of aerials around the circumference to any direction. The BT Tower became operational on October 8, 1965, and opened to the public in May 1966.
For many people, the key attraction was the revolving section situated about 160 metres up. It operated as a restaurant and people flocked to dine above the city. Of the 1.5 million visitors to the BT Tower during its first year, more than 100,000 ate in the restaurant and gazed out at the amazing view. The revolving segment spans three metres of the widest part of the BT Tower (where the floor is about 20 metres in diameter) and completes a full circuit every 22 minutes.
The BT Tower became a popular tourist destination but a bomb attack led to the doors being closed to visitors during the early Seventies. In the early hours of October 31, 1971, a bomb exploded on the 31st floor. Nobody was injured in the blast although the physical damage took two years to repair. No one claimed responsibility for hiding the device and BT decided public access to all areas was no longer viable. By this time, more than 4.5 million people had visited the BT Tower. The restaurant continued trading until 1980 when the floor was turned into a presentation suite for BT customer events.
- The revolving section weighs 30 tonnes. It runs on nylon-tyred wheels on circular rails
- The Tower cost Â£2.5 million to build
- It is designed to sway up to 20 centimetres from the vertical in high winds
- Heat and cold cause the structure to expand and contract. The BT Tower can be as much as 23 centimetres shorter in the winter than it is in the summer
- The building's two lifts travel at six metres a second and take just more than 30 seconds to reach the top
BT TowerCleveland Street, London, W1T 4JH
Picture credits:Visual Media, tel: 020 7287 4646