BT Tower Birmingham

Year:1966

Duration:2 years

Cost:Unknown

Country: Birmingham, UK

What did this project achieve?

Build a communication tower to send and receive telephone, radio and television signals

The BT Tower Birmingham is a telecommunications tower in Birmingham. The structure is the tallest building in the city and well-known as a local landmark.

The building was one of a series of communication towers built across the UK in the 1960s. The network – which includes the better-known BT Tower in London – was designed to relay telephone, TV and radio signals around Britain.

The 152m tower was completed in 1966. It was opened by the Lord Mayor of Birmingham Alderman James S Meadows and became operational in 1967.

The structure was designed by architects at the Ministry of Public Building and Works working for the General Post Office (GPO) – a precursor to BT.

The building has 31 floors, with five levels of circular aerial galleries at the top. It also houses testing and maintenance workshops, as well as rooms for archive storage. Other floors include a canteen for workers.

Some areas of the tower are no longer in use – these include a telephone exchange installed in the 1970s. Much of the old exchange equipment is still there, including some ‘Trimphones’ - a design of telephone popular at the time.

Although the tower’s original 4m-wide analogue radio dishes have been removed, it still houses around 80 smaller dishes 500cm across.

The dishes are used to send signals to parts of Britain without access to the national fibre-optic broadband network.

Difference the project has made

The BT Tower Birmingham was part of the microwave relay that was the backbone of the UK’s telecommunications network at the time.

The network could handle up to 150,000 telephone conversations and 40 television channels when it opened.

The BT Tower contributed to a system that made communications easier for British businesses - helping boost productivity across the country.

How the work was done

Engineers originally intended the Birmingham tower to be circular – and of a similar design to the London tower.

Cost over-runs on the London tower led to a redesign on the Birmingham structure – and a change to a square concrete building.

The Birmingham tower was designed to be stable in high winds. Channels at each corner of the building funnel winds to reduce the forces acting on the structure.

The circular aerial gallery at the top of the tower was designed to house the building’s satellite dishes.

Engineers got the dishes into place by using a trolley running on steel rails as far as the bottom of the aerial gallery. From there, project workers hoisted them up into place using a system of steel cables and poles.

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The tower offers a true bird’s eye view of the city centre - on a clear day you can see for miles around.

Birmingham Post newspaper

August 2017

Fascinating facts

The tower has been known by several names since it opened. They include the General Post Office (GPO) Tower, Birmingham Radio Tower and Telecom Tower.

A pair of peregrine falcons – the world’s fastest animal – has been spotted nesting on a ledge on the 22nd floor of the tower.

BT engineers modified the ledge to form a pebbled surface that resembled the falcons’ natural cliff-top habitat. BBC Birmingham producers later set up a camera to observe the birds.

People who made it happen

  • Client: The General Post Office (GPO)
  • Architect: MH Bristow at the Ministry of Public Building and Works

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