When Birmingham’s Hidden Spaces, purveyors of all things architectural and heritage, invited me and 9 other members of Brum’s photography scene to go on the roof of the iconic Alpha Tower I would have been lying if I said I wasn’t as giddy as a school kid! The fact that the aforementioned rooftop trip would take place at sunrise only furthered my excitement about this incredible opportunity!
The Alpha Tower, erected in 1973, is a grade-II listed brutalist skyscraper that is an icon of the Birmingham skyline. Very much like marmite and the now deceased Birmingham Central Library, the Alpha Tower is either loved or hated by the general public. As for me, I love it! It is a brutalist masterpiece that still looks both futuristic and classic against its more contemporary neighbours.
The 28-floor tower is currently undergoing a multi-million pound refurb which includes the imminent opening of the Alpha Works project which resides on the 21st and 22nd floors. The Alpha Works project is a new initiative by building owners CEG to create a space which dove tails with the exponential growth of the ‘gig economy’ and works to support it. The newly refurbished space includes meeting rooms, working space, wi-fi, and hospitality facilities which can all be rented on a daily basis. Coupled with the new modernised space at Alpha Works are breathtaking views of the surrounding Birmingham skyline which provide an incredible backdrop to the many meeting rooms in the space.
It was exactly those views of the city that Hidden Spaces wanted me and 9 other photographers to capture on the morning of the 18th and 19th of March. Sunrise was due at 6.15am so to make sure we were able to shoot some night shots from the top, and be in place for the sunrise, we agreed to meet at the base at 5am. Passing St. Patricks day revellers making their way home from the night before, we made our way towards the Alpha Tower which stood as a dark monolith against the fast moving clouds of the night sky. The express elevator took us up to the 27th floor where we passed through a normally sealed door to a ladder and hatch which lead out on to the roof. The 5 selected photographers for the Saturday session scaled the steep ladders out onto a roof packed with air conditioning systems and other building facilities equipment. Just behind the pipework and ducting though was the skyline we had all come to see from this unique vantage point.
After some jostling for position, the 5 lucky photographers (myself included) were able to settle into locations around the roof that gave unobstructed views of the city as it began to rise from its slumber. Rubbish trucks made their way around the streets below us while traffic began to appear on the normally packed A38. There is an incredible stillness about the city just before dawn and to observe this from the top of the Alpha Tower was an unforgettable experience. Icons of the Birmingham Skyline filled the views from the tower on all sides, but of course they were all beneath us which allowed for some very rare angles of the city to be shot. The Library to the North, BT Tower to the East, Beetham Tower to the South, and the Hyatt to the West, al dominated the views on show.
We shot long exposure after long exposure while waiting for the eagerly anticipated sunrise. Unfortunately we were not granted the glorious Brumrise we had all hoped for. The clouds rolled in shortly before 6.15am giving a disappointingly flat sky as the sun rose behind them. As the morning went on we all continued to shoot as much of the city as we could before we had to leave. The sunrise may have been a let down, but the views and the space at Alpha Works most certainly were not.
The space at Alpha Works opens on the 8th of April.
Words and images by Fraser McGee