It might be a consequence of rightly preserving so many of the older city centre buildings, or perhaps it’s because having tempted the BBC to decentralise much of its output to the city Manchester wants to emulate London, but whatever the reason the city is growing upwards.
The Beetham Tower’s 47 storeys currently dominate the skyline, and for me provide a useful guide to my distance from the office in Deansgate where I often work. It’s visible from 10 different counties on a clear day, but it’s days of dominance are numbered.
Like the silhouette of Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia, the Manchester skyline seems to be as much about tower cranes as actual buildings.
No 1 Spinningfields was planned to be a close second to the Beetham Tower when originally designed, but the 140m version was rejected by the City planners. (Beetham is 157m to the roof, but an extension to the facade which doubles as a lighting conductor reaches nearly 12m further). Nevertheless at 92m the redesigned version is easy to spot.
All the same the Beetham Tower’s will be overshadowed in just three years from now. Work began earlier this year on a development at the nearby Owen Street which will deliver a cluster of four towers of which the tallest at 200m will dwarf the Beetham. It will be the 5th tallest in the UK.
Hardly surprising then that local alternative rockers Elbow should take inspiration from the ubiquitous lattices of steel that accompany all of this construction and deliver a song called The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver.
Come on, tower crane driver
Oh so far to fall
I hadn’t considered it much before but I was surprised that we still rely on human beings to climb their way up to a small cabin that is hundreds of feet in the air and spend the entirety of their day (which might be up to 12 hours) there including all of their breaks before carefully descending again to ground level.
Surely in these days of driverless cars and flying drones we could remotely control these spindly giants, yet every example I saw had a cab at the top, where a man and his toilet bottle spend the day. A toilet break would involve a great loss of productivity on site if the operation had to stop and wait for the time taken to descent and ascent once more, but it seems to me like another good reason to automate the process. The reliance of the entire site on the cranes though does mean that Guy Garvey and his bandmates got it wrong. With constant communication by radio and hand signals from those down below, there is little chance of loneliness.
I don’t suppose The Claustrophobia of the Tower Crane Driver would have had quite the same pathos.