Tower of Light in Manchester, England

In the mid-2010s, Manchester City Council wanted to build an efficient, low-carbon centralized heating network (now named the Manchester Civic Quarter Heat Network) for several of the buildings within the city center. After securing funding from the national government, the council selected a narrow, awkwardly-shaped site between the Manchester Central Convention Complex and Bridgewater Hall and adjacent to the viaduct used by the city’s trams. While the city could have simply built a purely functional facility, they instead constructed a very eye-catching structure designed by architect Tonkin Liu.

This facility would be named the Tower of Light. The structure consists of a power and heat generation room enclosed within a 63-meter-long curved wall (named the Wall of Energy) with a large tower containing the flues from the generators extending upwards 40 m from the structure. The exterior of the tower is made of a set of specially constructed white steel sheets that form, in the words of the architect, a “Shell Lace Structure.”

The Wall of Energy is covered in a set of curved white glazed ceramic tiles that interlock to form a wave pattern. A window running part of the length of the Wall of Energy reveals both the power generator and the gas boilers that provide heat and electricity to the buildings within the network. The exterior of the structure is also lit up at night, making it stand out prominently among the surrounding buildings.

The design for this building was first selected in 2017, with construction starting in 2019 and reaching completion in 2021. Starting in early 2022, the building started providing heat and power to other buildings in the city center. However, the structure is not only functional but also architecturally notable, having won multiple architectural awards. The Tower of Light is now not only part of the city of Manchester’s solution to becoming energy efficient but also a notable landmark in its own right.

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