Why I like cooling towers…

Earlier this week I read that three cooling towers at Richborough in Kent were blown up in an event lasting only a few seconds and it sparked a quick, but memorable burst of nostalgia…


Cooling towers are without doubt one of the most instantly recognisable building forms in this country. When I was growing up and dad  would occasionally drive us to Birmingham for some family jamboree or other, I always used to look forward to seeing two things from the car: Fort Dunlop on the right hand side of the M6 (now a hotel development by Urban Splash) and the two huge, elegant structures that were the cooling towers of the Nechells Power station on the left.

I could never understand what such huge structures were for, especially after dad patiently explained that they were completely hollow on the inside, so allowing the hot steam and gases generated by the power station to be cooled and condense into water in these vast concrete spaces, before all heading up into the atmosphere…  I obvioulsy made a comment that stuck in my dad’s mind, as they became known in our family (and still are in fact, despite having being demolished many years ago) as “Joe’s waste of brick towers”…

It was this hollowness of form that resulted in a second part to my nostalgia trip…

When I was at Leeds learning to be an Architect, the journey back up the M1 after visiting friends and family in the Midlands, took me along the Tinsley Viaduct in Sheffield and past two cooling towers that sat eerily close to the road. As with the Birmingham ones, I was always taken with their effortless grace and beauty, and I can remember being very impressed when I was told that Terry Gilliam had shot the closing scenes of his dystopian masterpiece Brazil in one of these very towers, using the huge industrial scale to such stunning effect in the tourture scene…

I believed and told many people this fact for years, learning only a few years ago that it was untrue and the sequences had been shot in Croydon… Memories as shattered as these wonderful structures…

If like me, you find cooling towers fascinating and alluring things, and you know of some near you, I suggest you go and visit them soon.. Our recent industrial heritage seems not to merit the protection afforded their more domestic and residential cousins. All the towers mused over in this post have long since gone. As technology moves inexorably forwards, these peaceful old dinosaurs are destroyed and removed from the landscape, and I for one think that is criminal.

  1. August 28, 2012 at 12:33

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  2. December 16, 2014 at 15:20

    It is always nice to hear good comments about cooling towers, particularly from the atmospheric type, often misconstrued as a source of contamination. Once you are aware of them it is hard not to notice them in almost any landscape, top of buildings, refineries, power plants, mills, and more.

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