What could the iconic BT tower look like after a £275 million transformation?

WITH the sale of the BT Tower in London being announced this week, the opportunity to re-imagine the UK’s most iconic buildings is back in the zeitgeist. Bill Webb, co-founder and director at Able Partners, gives a glimpse of the designs sketched so far.

Caption: The BT Tower reimagined by Able Partners, WSP, Somewhere. and Jason Hawkes

Re-imagining and protecting the UK’s most iconic buildings and skylines is Able Partners’ modus operandi. The company is focused on the importance of repurposing buildings across the UK, and internationally, to extend their lifespan into the future and manage embodied carbon – all while protecting much-loved buildings.

Heatherwick Studio has been appointed to design the new BT Tower and hotel, and while the industry will eagerly await the final designs, Able Partners has offered a creative reimagining of the building and space, which focusses on sustainability and the reuse of current materials, as well as the preservation of an icon amongst London’s skyline.

Caption: The BT Tower against the backdrop of the city, reimagined by Able Partners, WSP and SOMEWHERE. agency

The iconic Grade II listed building, 177 metres high, has dominated the London skyline since the 1960s, but contains a huge amount of embodied carbon. Demolishing the structure would have been sacrilege, even though its original use is now facing obsolescence as communication becomes digital.

The built environment must take an increasingly important role in providing a more sustainable environment. This project will do just that.

It’s all about unlocking what works into the future for an owner or occupier whilst capturing the public’s imagination. For the UK’s most loved and recognised buildings – like the BT Tower – it’s about maintaining that heritage and holding a place in people’s hearts.

The wealth of opportunity to re-imagine the space, make better use of it and give it a new lease of life are thrilling prospects. The possibilities are endless, the benefits are clear, and here is just a taste of what may come.

Caption: The BT Tower reimagined by Able Partners, WSP and SOMEWHERE. Agency

For architects, these buildings provide a fun, creative and challenging approach to making better, more sustainable use of what we have. Any existing building holds potential to be reworked into something extraordinary, but historic buildings have another level of potential bringing up to modern standards, protecting against release of embodied carbon and erasure from our current streetscapes.

Research and development

Many architects focus on simply producing their client work, but a great deal of enjoyment lies in an architectural challenge – even one outside of client work. Dedicating time to designing simply to design is a fantastic creative development opportunity for architects, and one we focus on here at Able.

Indeed, the BT Tower has captured our own imagination for many years, especially being just around the corner from our base in Fitzrovia. It’s one of the buildings we have produced our own visualisations of in the past alongside WSP – and the difference between what we came up with and what is now in the works with MCR Hotels and Heatherwick Studio shows the wide scope of opportunities that lie in these buildings.

To give the building a new lease of life, we leaned into using the building’s unique structure and height, stripping away the telecoms functions that are no longer needed, placing these elements into new casing and reusing as much existing material as possible. By replacing them with demountable, modular structures, as well as circular water strategies and PVs, our goal was to ensure the circularity of the building well into the future.

Our ideas begin with a safe but exciting route up the structure for those ‘Instagram moments’. This provides plenty of opportunity to maximise the views up its 177m height from co-working, office and hotel spaces – the possibilities are endless. A series of indoor and outdoor galleries would provide 360 views of the London skyline via raked seating, along with a restaurant space – adding a new spot to the capital’s ‘must-see’ sights.

Caption: The BT Tower reimagined by Able Partners, WSP and SOMEWHERE. Agency

A final note

Ultimately, the re-imagining of any building is an exciting prospect, providing so many different avenues to take it forward into a new chapter of its life, even if – like with the BT Tower – its original use is no longer needed. And with sustainability and meeting net zero targets front of mind, it doubles the importance of making what we have much better.

There are so many great buildings out there that are not quite attractive enough for the modern tenant, or simply no long serving a purpose. What we can do as architects is make them fantastic again – creating more sustainable developments and making sure they don’t disappear from our streetscapes and skylines.

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