MCR Hotels buys Grade II-listed London landmark

Heatherwick Studio to Turn BT Tower into Hotel

John Hill
22. February 2024
Photo: Dominic Alves/Flickr 

The sale, enabled by a shift from microwave aerial transmissions to fixed and mobile networks, totals £275 million ($346 million), per a statement from BT Group, which has owned the tower since 1984. The radio tower, first proposed in 1954, was completed in 1961 per a design by London's Ministry of Public Buildings and Works Architect's Department. Anchored by a tapered, reinforced concrete cylindrical core, the utilitarian structure expresses its varied functions across its height: seventeen floors of equipment rooms, ventilation plant, and offices behind glass on its lower floors; six level of hospitality functions (observation, restaurant, and kitchen) at the top; and aerials and dished mounted in between, at heights needed for adequate ground clearance and range of transmission. This data is per Historic England's entry on the BT Communications Tower, which was given Grade II protection in 2003.

Photo: Anthony O'Neil/Geograph

This week's news of the tower's sale immediately raises questions as to what the tower will look like when it's eventually transformed into a hotel (the process will be long, given the years it will take BT to remove its equipment from the tower), particularly given that a Grade II listing does not limit changes to a structure, and especially in the face of MCR Hotels hiring the studio of Thomas Heatherwick. The designer seems to court controversy these days: In London he is still known for the canceled Garden Bridge proposal; his Vessel remains shuttered after four suicides; and his latest salvo, Humanise, decries all modern buildings — except his own — as “boring.” 

Although the specter of a Heatherwick transformation of the BT Tower is hardly being met with universal praise, Londoners should take solace in the track record of the designer's client, MCR, which turned Eero Saarinen's TWA Flight Center at JFK Airport into the TWA Hotel five years ago. “We see many parallels between the TWA Hotel and the BT Tower,” Tyler Morse, CEO and owner of MCR, said in a statement, “both are world-renowned, groundbreaking pieces of architecture,” with TWA completed just one year after BT. Still, local landmark protections prevented dramatic changes to the Saarinen building, leading MCR and Morse Development to build two seven-story structures behind the sculptural icon for the hotel rooms. Only time will tell what Heatherwick and MCR, working with Fitzrovia's residents, envision for BT Tower's next life.

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