The Twentieth Century Society

Campaigning for outstanding buildings

Watch Millbank Tower wobble

Tonight the Grade II Millbank Tower, on the Thames next door to TateBritain, is set to buckle and bend.  However, C20 won’t be panicking: it’s just a carefully planned illusion and a publicity stunt for Nokia.  At 9pm massive projectors south of the Thames will beam across at the building’s convex façade and create a show which has “a relationship with the architecture”.  No idea what it will be like, but it’s just up the road from me, so I may go and have a look.   If you do likewise and want to impress your companions with your knowledge, note the following:

The Millbank Tower was built as the Vickers Tower (1959-63) and designed by Ronald Ward and Partners. It has a reinforced concrete frame and core with glass curtain walling with projecting stainless steel mullions (opaque panels of blue glass below the windows and narrow black panels between each storey).

Last time I visited the original Vickers boardroom was still in place on the top floor, complete with timber panelled walls inset with relief models of ships—Vickers was an engineering firm specializing in military contracts, but it was not to inhabit its prestige headquarters for long.  Whilst the tower was under construction its aircraft interests were merged into the British Aircraft Corporation, and both BAC and Vickers’ shipbuilding division were  nationalised under the terms of the 1977 Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Act .

My favourite building by Ronald Ward and Partners is Dungeness Lighthouse, (the one built in 1960—there are several lighthouses on the shingle beach). That is Grade II* listed  and constructed from 21 precast black and white concrete drums, each 5ft high, and stacked up to form alternating bands of colour.  The whole structure was then post-tensioned by running high tensile steel wires through the walls from top to bottom and tightening them up.  This method means that the tower does not have to spread out at the base to gain extra strength, like a traditional lighthouse.


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