Alpha Tower

Overview

Heritage Category:
Listed Building
Grade:
II
List Entry Number:
1420049
Date first listed:
31-Jul-2014
Location Description:
Suffolk Street, Queensway, Birmingham

Map

Ordnance survey map of Alpha Tower
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Location

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Location Description:
Suffolk Street, Queensway, Birmingham
District:
Birmingham (Metropolitan Authority)
Parish:
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:
SP0646886728

Summary

An office block of twenty-eight storeys, designed by George Marsh of Richard Seifert & Partners and built in 1970-72. Construction engineers were Oscar Faber & Partners.

Reasons for Designation

Alpha Tower and the adjacent service block, Suffolk Street, Birmingham, are listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

* Architectural interest: the building is one of the most aesthetically successful office buildings in Birmingham with a shaped outline and careful detailing giving it a dynamic forcefulness. Its design successfully combined several ideas into a powerful and elegant building which soon became, and has continued to be, one of the most popular landmarks of the rebuilding of Birmingham city centre in the mid C20;

* Architects: the building was designed by the noted architect George Marsh of the Richard Seifert practice, and marked a change from his earlier designs, such as Centre Point, which depended for part of their effect on the strong shapes of pre-cast concrete panels;

* Intact survival: despite changes in layout, which were always intended in this adaptable building, the overall plan form remains and many examples of careful, original detailing, including staircases, doors and windows, are in-situ.

History

The Alpha Tower was one part of the ATV development, erected between 1970 and 1973 for Associated Television on the site of a former canal basin. The scheme was initially highly ambitious and, as outlined in the Architectural Review of January 1969 (at which time it was known as 'The Paradise Centre' - facing onto Paradise Street), it would have been the largest post-war development in Birmingham and have included a conference hall, shops, an air terminal, hotel and offices. At the centre of the development was a tower of thirty-five storeys, linked to a lower block housing the hotel. The two blocks would have formed a zig-zag on plan. The principal tower was planned to taper from a splayed base and to have a thin, flat top. The development was delayed by three years due to objections from the General Post Office and the city council about the scale of the planned building. In the event, the tower was reduced to twenty-eight storeys and the joined hotel was not built, although the cranked plan of the tower was retained with wedge-shaped ends. The tapered profile of the original design was also altered. The block was sited with its narrow sides placed facing roughly north-west and south-west so as not to impede views of the Memorial Hall in Centenary Square. The accompanying development was re-cast to become the studios of ATV (now demolished).

The design, by Richard Seifert & Partners, was the responsibility of H George Marsh, a Birmingham man by birth, who had also designed Centre Point in London at the junction of Charing Cross Road and Oxford Street. Ownership of the building changed in February 2014 to the Commercial Estates Group.

Details

An office block of twenty-eight storeys, designed by George Marsh of Richard Seifert & Partners and built in 1970-72. Construction engineers were Oscar Faber & Partners.

MATERIALS A reinforced concrete frame with floor plates cantilevered from a structural core. The curtain walling has pre-cast concrete panels with bronzed aluminium windows with tapered sides. The ground-floor walling and piloti are covered with white, square tesserae. PLAN The shape of the plan is cranked, with wedge-shaped ends to the south-east and north-west ends. Viewed on plan, the outline of the building looks somewhat like a boomerang. The cranked shape is replicated in the central service core, which houses the lifts and services, and the wedge-shaped ends are where the staircases are placed.

EXTERIOR The building is supported at ground-floor level by a series of pillars. These are tapered, growing thinner towards the bottom on their outward side, and thinner towards the top on their inner side, with their flanks moulded with a gradual curve to accommodate this change. The lintels above the pillars are also angled. The two, wedge-shaped ends of the building differ in their treatment at ground-floor level; at the south-eastern end the corner of the curtain wall is cut away at an angle, while at the opposite, north-western end it drops down to the level of the surrounding podium, both angles indicating the staircases housed at these two ends of the building. Walling across the ground floor is covered with white, mosaic tesserae.

Above the ground floor, the cladding is of striated, pre-cast concrete panels and all window openings are divided by tapered mullions. From the second-floor level upwards the mullions have an angled splay at their base where there is a ventilation grille. Window surrounds are of bronzed aluminium. The wedge shapes at the north-western and south-eastern ends have blank walling at either side of a vertical channel which rises for the full height of the building at the corner. At the top of the building service rooms for air conditioning plant are set back from the edge.

INTERIOR The reception area is placed at the south-eastern end of the building and has plate-glass windows which enable views across the building, giving an impression of transparency to this area. Plant and storage areas are positioned at the north-western end of the ground floor. The central service core, rising through all floors, mirrors the curved shape of the building and has lifts to either side. Window mullions are vertical to their inner edges, but tapered at either side of the window opening and the reveals are curved to accommodate this change. Dogleg staircases are set at the sharp ends of the floors. They do not extend fully into the corners, but each has a continuous, canted bay which looks out through the vertical slit at the corner of the building. A spiral staircase has been cut through the flooring to connect the 20th and 21st floors. Floor plans have been adapted at various dates and vary between open-plan and temporary office divisions.

SERVICE BLOCK To the west of the office block, and free-standing in the paved plaza which surrounds it, is a low service block. This is covered in white tesserae and consists of two circular turrets, obliquely cut at their tops, and a square block with rounded corners which is also cut at an oblique angle to its top. These clustered shapes house various functions associated with the servicing of the office tower and the former ATV studios.

Pursuant to S.1 (5) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 ('the Act') it is declared that the following are not to be treated as part of the listed building for the purposes of the act:

ALPHA TOWER The internal floor space at each level of the building with the following exceptions: the external walls, including the piers positioned between the windows and the window embrasures to their full internal depth; the lift lobby at the centre of each floor, with the exception of the lifts; the service stairs at the northern and southern end of each floor.

SERVICE BLOCK The outer walling and roofs of the cluster of small buildings which form the service block are included within the statutory listing, but their internal space is not.

Sources

Books and journals
Foster, A, Pevsner Architectural Guides: Birmingham, (2005), 142
'Building' in Building, (23 August 1968)
'Architect's Journal' in Architect's Journal, (20 October 1971), 856-7
Leslie Ginsberg, , 'Architectural Review' in Architectural Review, (January 1969, p62), 62

Legal

This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

The listed building(s) is/are shown coloured blue on the attached map. Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’), structures attached to or within the curtilage of the listed building (save those coloured blue on the map) are not to be treated as part of the listed building for the purposes of the Act.

End of official listing

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