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Beetham Tower: the U.K.'s Screaming Skyscraper

Posted December 09, 2015 10:00 AM by HUSH

It seems every city has iconic infrastructure that comes to personify the city itself. The Space Needle, Golden Gate Bridge and Empire State Building are just some examples. For smaller or mid-major cities, such landmarks are typically identified only by locals. A good example is Albany, N.Y.; The Empire State Plaza is quickly recognized by locals, but few else.

For Manchester, England, one these landmarks is undoubtedly Beetham Tower, a 554-feet-tall skyscraper erected in 2006 in the U.K.'s second largest city. Beetham Tower is by far the tallest building in the city and it looms over the rest of the city's mix of classic and modern architecture. However, Beetham Tower is more notable for some locals for its audible presence. That is, the tower emits an audible hum when under a wind load. Here's a YouTube link for evidence.

The hum is believed to emanate from the unused section of facade that extends beyond the tower's roof. The skyscraper was originally designed to be 50 stories tall, but wind load tests showed that the building would sway too much, so the height was shortened to 47 stories. The fa├žade for the tower was already in place, so the last 39 ft. of it extends beyond the roofline. A decorative glass blade made of louvers were added to make it less unsightly.

When wind passes over this extension it vibrates and creates a sound that's been described as a hum, shriek, howl, whistle, or UFO sound. According to Wiki, the sound is close to the musical note B3 (246.95 Hz) and can be heard by those within about 1,000 feet. The tower houses a 23 level hotel and another 22 levels of apartments. While these poor blokes (it is in the U.K., after all) have to suffer through the noise, the architect of the skyscraper, Ian Simpson, lives in the penthouse apartment at the top of Beetham Tower and probably has to live through the worst of it.

In 2013 Simpson publically apologized for it and said that he and his organization were looking for solutions. He admitted that the glass blade was entirely decorative and could be removed. Yet nearly two years later, Beetham Tower still howls in the wind.

Overall, the howling building phenomenon is not new. New York City's Cityspire Tower howled from when it opened in 1990 until engineers determined that removing every other louver from the building's cooling tower would eliminate the noisy resonation. The Freedom Tower howled into the Tribeca neighborhood while it was under construction. Tonal wind studies are needed to check for acoustic resonance from cavities or structural resonance from flexible components, but this is a complicated, imprecise and expensive task. Most of the time buildings or structures create Aeolian tones completely accidentally.

Nonetheless, I can understand the distress if these sounds would keep me awake at night too. After nearly a decade, I think it's time engineers finally got rid of this annoying Beetham bellow.

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