From post-war concrete skyscrapers to gleaming glass towers of all shapes, sizes and cloud-brushing heights, the last 60 years have seen Manchester’s skyline change dramatically. Here we take a look back at the rapid growth of this incredible city, before taking a sneak peek into the future at what is yet to emerge onto Manchester’s high-rising horizon.
Manchester’s post-war building boom, which began in the 1960s and continued through to the late 1970s, saw a spate of new skyscrapers being added to the city’s previously low-level skyline. From the construction of the 25-storey CIS Tower in 1962 – the tallest building in the UK at the time – to the arrival of the 21-storey Arndale House in 1979, this was an exciting period of growth for the UK’s ‘second city’.
This was followed by a relative period of inactivity, however, until 2006 when the city’s most notable period of growth began.
This was the year that marked the arrival of the iconic Beetham Tower, knocking the CIS Tower off its top spot as Manchester’s tallest building – a title it held for an impressive 44 years. From here, the city began a steep upward trajectory of tall building construction projects, with over 25 buildings of more than 20 storeys added to the skyline over the last 14 years, compared with just 6 in the previous 45 years.
Since the 1960s post-war building boom began, Manchester’s tall building construction projects have added over 1,400 floors of office and residential space to the city, with a collective height of over 4,500 metres.
As a city with centuries of history to its name, Manchester has a great deal of character with several distinct areas and districts. Many of these areas have histories and past uses that fell away as the years progressed, leaving behind entire neighbourhoods in need of regeneration. Key areas across the city that have seen intensive regeneration projects and initiatives include the historically industrialised Piccadilly Basin, Ancoats and Castlefield, all of which have undergone drastic transformations while preserving key elements of their heritage and character.
Entirely new neighbourhoods have also appeared on the Manchester map, creatively repurposing the city’s previously disused and forgotten sites. These vibrant new areas include the likes of Deansgate and Castlefield with numerous new skyscrapers being built including AXIS, NOMA in the Northern Quarter, at the heart of which sits the iconic One Angel Square development, and Salford’s residential Greengate neighbourhood, featuring the recently built Anaconda Cut apartment tower.
Let’s take a closer look at how this ever-changing city has evolved over the decades with a few of the most well-known architectural highlights:
These two decades saw the introduction of a series of post-war skyscrapers that began adding never-before-seen height to Manchester’s skyline. Here are the most notable buildings that appeared as part of the city’s first tall building boom:
Built to serve as the prestigious headquarters of the Co-operative movement in Manchester, the CIS tower remains to this day one of the most recognisable buildings on the city’s skyline. Standing at 118 metres tall with an impressive 225,020 sq ft of office space, CIS tower is now a Grade II listed building and gets its iconic blue colouring from the addition of energy-generating photovoltaic panels, installed as part of its extensive renovation in 2004.
Originally known as St Andrew’s House and then Portland Tower, Manchester One was among the first high-rise buildings to be erected in Manchester in the 1960s. Used as one of the city’s many professional office spaces and offering 102,000 sq ft of commercial real estate, the west side of the Manchester One tower was famously once painted bright yellow to display the logo for the 2002 Commonwealth Games. Who remembers that?
Originally named Sunley House, this modernist concrete skyscraper became the tallest building in the UK at the time of its completion in 1965. Still counted among the tallest office buildings in the city centre, City Tower stands at 107 metres high – 123 metres if you count the antenna. With an impressive 30 storeys in total, City Tower’s 28th floor remains the highest commercial space in Manchester, while its unique circuit board-inspired design adds to the statement sixties style of this iconic building.
Formerly known as Rodwell Tower or Rodwell House, 111 Piccadilly is an 18-storey commercial building with just under 70 sq ft of office space. Completed in 1965, the building’s architects faced a unique challenge in figuring out how to build a high-rise building over the Rochdale canal. Eight enormous columns were constructed to carry the building above the water, which adds to the impressive appearance of Manchester’s joint-sixteenth tallest building.
Formerly known as Highland House and originally built for the Inland Revenue, North Tower technically belongs to the city of Salford, standing just on the edge of Manchester City Centre. Together with its podium base, North Tower stands at 80m tall, making it one of the tallest buildings in Salford. The building was converted from commercial use between 1998 and 2000, with the top 12 floors now used as apartments and the remaining lower floors as the Premier Inn Hotel.
Sitting smack bang in the city centre above the famous Arndale Shopping Centre, Arndale House is another of Manchester’s most iconic and instantly recognisable pieces of ‘70s architecture. Used as premium commercial office space, this much sought-after 21-storey building is home to the likes of Co-op, Sainsbury’s and Premier Foods and is accessible via the Arndale Centre’s lower mall.
Jumping forward in time to the turn of the Millennium, Manchester’s building boom took another steep upward turn after a relative period of inactivity. Here are just a few of the high-rise highlights from this fast-moving decade:
One of Manchester’s most famous buildings, Beetham Tower (widely known as the Manchester Hilton Hotel) has dominated the city’s skyline since its construction topped out in 2006. Though it has since been overtaken in height by the Deansgate Square development, Beetham Tower stands at an impressive 47 storeys (169 metres) tall and is home to The Hilton Hotel, several floors of luxury apartments, a sky bar and even a top floor penthouse olive grove belonging to the building’s architect, Ian Simpson.
The sloped silhouette of this modern apartment building stands 72 metres tall at its highest point, with its roof sloping from 10 storeys up to its top 25. Designed to complement the curved roof of the nearby Manchester Central convention centre (formerly known as GMEX), Great Northern Tower took six years from its proposal in 2001 to completion in 2007, and is a purely residential development clad in sleek glass and metal tiles.
As the Noughties made way for the 2010s, the rate of tall building growth in the city took an even steeper upturn, with a new focus on residential developments as well as commercial spaces.
Formerly known as Liberty Heights, 17 New Wakefield street is the tallest purpose built student accommodation building in the world, standing at 109 metres high. Containing 525 bedrooms exclusively for young people and students, this is currently the 9th tallest building in Manchester.
One of the most unique buildings in the city, One Angel Square is the landmark head office of the Co-operative Group. While only stretching as high as 15 stories, what this building lacks in height it makes up for in incredible architectural style and zero carbon emissions status. The building generates its power and heat using a rapeseed oil biodiesel, while the building’s shape has been compared to a ship and even a sliced egg.
A fairly recent addition to Manchester’s collection of residential high-rise buildings, One Regent offers 28 floors of apartments on the River Irwell. The 82m building sits just on the edge of Manchester’s border with Salford in the historic Castlefield area.
Easily the most unusual building name on our list, the Anaconda Cut is a 44-storey residential building in the Greengate area of Salford. The name ‘Anaconda’ comes from the stretch of the River Irwell that the building sits beside, while ‘Cut’ comes from a little-known but highly innovative flood prevention project carried out in the area in the 1960s. Now the tallest building in Salford, Anaconda Cut is easily recognisable by its unique green colouring.
The Deansgate Square development consists of 4 skyscrapers all of different heights, with its South Tower stretching the highest at 201 metres. Dwarfing the previous reigning champion, Beetham Tower, by 32 metres, the complex contains a mix of residential, commercial and lifestyle properties with a total of 1,969,795.61 sq ft of space. Here are the statistics for each of the individual towers in this new Manchester landmark development:
We’ve reached the here and the now, and Manchester’s building boom is showing no signs of stopping or even slowing. Here’s a sneak peek at what’s in store for the city’s skyline the coming years, including a development set to hit even loftier heights than Deansgate Square.
Named for its enviable, pivotal location in the thriving heart of the city, AXIS is one of Manchester’s latest pioneering development projects from Property Alliance Group. Perched seamlessly over the Rochdale Canal in the lively Deansgate Locks area, AXIS stands 93 metres tall with 28 floors of high end living space and unobstructed views of the city below. Offering premium penthouses and apartments from 1-3 bedrooms, AXIS stands out against Manchester’s ever expanding skyline with its unique bronze metal cladding and one of Europe’s largest digital advertising screens built into its north face.
Completion Due: 2021
Once completed, Oxygen will become Manchester’s very own ‘vertical village’, offering both accommodation and living amenities in the city’s Piccadilly Basin area. As the latest innovative development from Property Alliance Group, this unique 3-step building design will stand an impressive 150m high with 32 storeys of premium real estate, promising to become a thriving urban neighbourhood all of its own. A combination of 369 apartments and 12 family townhouses will be surrounded by landscaped communal outdoor space, all within minutes of the bustling city centre.
Completion Due: 2023
Planned Storeys: 31
Scheduled for completion in 2023, the Swan House development is the latest project from Beetham Tower architect, Ian Simpson. Planned for a site on the corner of Swan Street and Rochdale road, this red brick and glass structure will stand 31 storeys high.
Completion Due: 2023
Planned Storeys: 22
This £79 million regeneration project is set to replace the tired and largely empty 1970s building currently occupying the corner of High Street and Church Street next to Manchester’s Arndale Centre. Its design takes inspiration from iconic Manchester buildings such as Sunlight House and Debenhams, and is set to stand 22 storeys high once completed, which should be in 2023.
Completion Due: 2024
Planned Height: 213m
Planned Storeys: 67
This development, if built, is set to overtake Deansgate Square’s South Tower in height, with its tallest tower planned to stand at 213 metres high with 67 storeys. Planned as a residential development, Trinity Islands will consist of five separate towers offering 1,390 new homes, all located next to the One Regent development on Water street in Manchester’s Castlefield area.
Completion Due: 2024
Planned Height: 173m
Planned Storeys: 55
Plans for this 55-storey residential tower were given the green light at the start of 2020 and, once completed, will become Salford’s tallest building ahead of Anaconda Cut. Located in Salford’s rapidly growing Greengate area on the edge of Manchester City Centre, One Heritage Tower is set to stand at 173 metres high and will cover a total of 10,225 sq ft.
Completion Due: 2025
Planned Height: 136m
Planned Storeys: 40
The proposed Viadux development may include a 136m high, 40 storey mixed use complex including a residential tower and office building. If plans are given the green light, completion on this project is due for 2025.
Completion Due: 2025
Planned Height: 134m
Planned Storeys: 38
St Michaels is a mixed-use development set to take over the site of the former police station and synagogue in Manchester’s historic core. Planned to comprise 150,000 sq ft of office space as well as retail space, a boutique hotel, spa, conference facilities and a restaurant, the finished development’s highest tower will stand at 134 metres and 30 storeys high. Initial plans for this development had to be heavily revised due to public opposition over the risk to important buildings including the historic Sir Ralph Abercrombie pub.
Completion Due: 2028
Planned Height: 152m
Planned Storeys: 51 and 51
Making up phase two of the Crown Street development project, these proposed skyscrapers have been dubbed the ‘Blade’ and the ‘Circle’. Both set to be 51 storeys high, the ‘Blade’ will be rectangular in shape with curved sides, while the ‘Circle’ will be cylindrical in shape. If approved, the development will also comprise a primary school, a public park, a gym and private gardens.
From 1960 to today, Manchester’s skyline has already changed practically beyond recognition. And with so many new developments already planned for the near future, we won’t have to wait long before we see the next generation of exciting new architecture make its home in this incredible, ever-growing city.