BT Tower to be transformed into hotel by Heatherwick Studio

Posted by Derek Mason

12th March 2024

Picture credit: Seb Doe on Unsplash

In yet another iconic project, Heatherwick Studio will work on transforming the BT Tower into a hotel. It was announced last month that US hotel owners MCR Hotels had bought the London landmark for £275 million.

At 177m (581ft), it was the tallest building in London when it opened in 1965, and remained so until 1980, when the Natwest Tower was built. The revolving restaurant at the top is fondly remembered by many of us, and attracted diners including The Beatles, Muhammad Ali, Tom Jones, Dusty Springfield and Mick Jagger.

Sadly, the restaurant became invitation only after a bomb went off there in 1971. Luckily no one was hurt, but there was extensive damage. Continued security concerns meant the restaurant became invitation only, with the tower closing to the public completely in 1981.

One might question the wisdom of selling off a much-loved UK asset to an overseas buyer, but that ship has already sailed, so we can at least celebrate that the new owners will be working with a London studio who can be trusted to make the most of this futuristic structure.

Or can they? Thomas Heatherwick is an interesting designer, turning his hand to everything from Coal Drops Yard to London’s New Routemaster Bus to a Google campus or two… or three, and even the copper cauldron at the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics.

Sometimes seen as controversial, some will not be happy about the prospect of the BT Tower having Heatherwick’s fingerprints all over it. There are certainly projects of his that have been a little less well received than the ones mentioned above. One of the most famous is Vessel in the Hudson Yards development, New York – a pine-cone-shaped visitor attraction made up of interconnected escalators.

Design critic Alan G Brake voiced his opinion in Dezeen, calling Vessel “a piece of urban costume jewellery, a gawdy bauble without a purpose beyond shallow adornment”. Tragically, the upper levels of the structure are now closed, after four separate suicides.

Another famous design – this time in the UK – was the doomed Garden Bridge, which was abandoned due to spiralling costs, and ultimately cost taxpayers around £46 million.

So should we be concerned about the fate of the Grade II-listed BT Tower? Personally, I don’t think there’s anything to worry about with a homegrown Heatherwick design. If you’re pushing the boundaries and coming up with iconic structures, there are bound to be a few misfires, and even a disaster or two. This is the nature of creative work. We’re very quick to judge, but the reality is that among a body of work, there will always be some projects that don’t quite hit the mark.

You learn from those projects, and you bring all that learning to future designs. My suspicion is that Heatherwick will do something extraordinary with the BT Tower, and it will be worth waiting for. Born in 1970, in London, I’m sure he has that same affection for the tower that many of us have and he’ll do this project justice.

I’ll leave you with a Heatherwick quote: “We need to fearlessly demand interestingness. We need to rebel against the blandification of our streets, towns and cities, and make buildings that nourish our senses. Human beings deserve human places.”

He’s right. Although I do wonder how many of us mere mortals will be able to stomach the prices of the BT Tower hotel. Here’s hoping there’s a viewing platform that’s open to all, although security concerns may make that a bit of a challenge.

If you have thoughts on this development let me know – I’m always interested to hear from you.

In the meantime, if you need assistance with the structural elements of an upcoming project, please do get in touch.

Looking for help with your project?

It is our technical prowess for modern, clean design and astute commercial acumen that results in saving clients’ time and money.

Tell us about your project
RBA RBA The Instituition of Structural Enginners Trada member ACE
ISO-9001-UKAS ISO-14001-UKAS ISO-45001-UKAS