The Television Tower is Not Trying to Look Beautiful

This post is about television towers – those biggish structures that enhance radio communications in much the same way mobile phone masts do, only more so. Here’s an image of models of some made by a German architect. The German ones tend to have lots of  ‘shelves’ to place and access the important bits. (Thanks theinvisbleagent!) And, just so you get a feel for the size of these things and different approaches to their design, here’s a diagram showing the relative heights of some of the biggest. (Thanks Chyang313.) There’s not that much variation.  We’ll get to #1, Guangzhou/Canton Tower eventually and #2, Jakarta Tower when one day it is completed. #3, Toronto’s CN Tower and #5 however, are adjacent to water and are therefore part of the usual postcard views of their respective cities. The Oriental Pearl Tower

stands by the bank of Huangpu River. It is in the centre of Lujiazui, opposite to the Bund which is famous for its grand buildings of various architectural styles. The tower is 468 metres high. It is the highest TV Tower in Asia and is the third highest one in the world. The designers magically set the eleven beautiful spheres of various sizes up from the green grassland to the blue sky with two giant spheres shining like two rubies. The whole design is rich in poetic and pictorial splendor., which gives the tourists the impression that pearls of Various sizes are dropping onto the emerald plate. (Thanks for that shme, and chinatourmap for the photo. )

Tashkent TV Tower towers over Tashkent and is the tallest structure in Central Asia. It’s vaguely similar, but less pearly and emeraldy.

With revolving restaurants at altitudes of 100-120 meters, the Tashkent TV Tower makes an excellent place to visit and dine. The “Red” and “Blue” room restaurant Koinot, house up to 120 visitors each. The halls of the restaurant have beautiful Décor, and rotating around the trunk of the tower at a gentle speed of one lap per hour. Visitors can admire the panorama of the capital of Uzbekistan unfolding in front of them. Choose from a range of national and European dishes and drinks. The tower stands at an impressive 375 metres tall. At the time of its construction Tashkent TV Tower was the fourth highest tower in the world. Currently, over twenty years later, Tashkent TV Tower is the ninth highest tower in the world, and remains the highest tower in Central Asia. The trunk of the tower houses 3 high-speed elevators which whick guests up to the top. The foyer of the tower is decorated in the style of Florentine and Roman mosaics. Tashkent Tower is a unique architectural structure, an attarction for both local residents and tourists. (Thanks yougodo.)

Architecturally, I’d venture that it’s not all that unique, but getting back to the relationship tv towers have with their respective cities, some manage to become part of the city skyscape without becoming the centre of attention. Toronto’s CN Tower is one of these.

Sydney Tower (1975, 309m, also known as the Sydney Tower Eye AMP TowerWestfield Centrepoint TowerCentrepoint Tower or just Centrepoint) is not. It’s at the back of the city, almost incidental to it and manages to get overlooked, so to speak.

Before moving on, I must mention that what is called  Guangzhou TV Tower in the comparison diagram at the top of this posts is now known as Canton Tower. The one below is the original Guangzhou TV Tower. It’s a variation on four-legged tower that, many would say, resembles The Eiffel Tower which is really quite amazing because all it has in common are four sides and four pseudo-arches.

Tokyo Tower (1958, 333 metres) perhaps has a little more in common with The Eiffel Tower, but not that much more. It

is still the tallest self-supporting steel structure in the world and was the tallest artificial structure in Japan until April 2010, when the new Tokyo Skytree became the tallest building of Japan. (W)

Photo: Wikipedia

Tokyo Skytree  (2010, 634m) however, is a beast. It’s

the tallest tower in the world, displacing the Canton Tower,[3][4] and the second tallest structure in the world after Burj Khalifa. It replaces Tokyo Tower.

Still in Japan, Kobe Tower (1963, 90.28m) is not a television tower but I mention it here because its structural system is the same as that of Canton Tower, which is coming up.

Kobe Tower’s structural system is the same as that of Shukov’s Tower of 1896

and still standing in 2006. It was the first hyperboloid tower in the world. See here for an excellent summary of early explorations in steel included in The Origins of Modernism in Russian Architecture. Shukov knew how to do things.

Anyway, Kobe Tower was the uncredited inspiration for

the Vortex – nicknamed because of its whirlpool shape – is the first project to be unveiled by Mr Shuttleworth’s new practice, Make. Mr Shuttleworth was the creative force behind some of Foster’s high-profile projects, such as Swiss Re (the Gherkin), Wembley stadium, the Millennium bridge in London and Hong Kong airport. to form Make.

The form of the tower arises from the observation that the most commercially valuable spaces in any tower are located at the lowest and highest levels: those closest to the ground benefit from their direct connection with the streetscape, while those at the top enjoy the most spectacular views and therefore command premium rents. Accordingly, the circular floorplates of the Vortex are largest at the base and the apex of the tower, reducing in diameter at the midway point to create a waisted profile. Structurally supported by inclined straight columns radiating outwards and upwards from the base, this form is incredibly stable and efficient and also has the advantage of minimising wind loads.

The Vortex seems to be trying too hard to be the geometric and chromatic opposite of The Gherkin. I remember the above image being on the front page of Building Design less than one week after the news of The Leaving became public. Quick work! Indeed. At least Shuttleworth left the basics intact. Canton Tower (2010, 459m) is what happens when you take a perfectly fine principle and mess with it. Check it out.

Mark Hemel, the Information Based Architecture declared: “Where most skyscrapers bear ‘male’ features; being introvert, strong, straight, rectangular, and based on repetition, we wanted to create a ‘female’ tower, being complex, transparent, curvy, gracious and sexy. Our aim was to design a free-form tower with a rich and human-like identity that would represent Guangzhou as a dynamic and exciting city.” The form of the tower is simple: two ellipses that are generating the shape, the volume and the structure, one of them at the foundation level and the other one at a horizontal plane at 450metres. The two create a waist and a densification of material. The structure of the tower is an open lattice-structure, who [sic] was built up from 1100 nodes. Mark Hemel declared: “Recent State of the Art fabrication and computerized analysis techniques allow designers to create much more complex structures than ever before.”

Did you follow that? It has an elliptical plan instead of circular and instead of the linear members being restricted (like a loosely-held handful of pasta) around another circle, they’re restricted by another ellipse rotated 90°. Nice one, Mark!

So you see, there’s not really that much you can do with a TV tower. The best ones seem not to try too hard. The Torre Collserola (1992, 288m) is probably one of the best, albeit in Foster+Partners’ characteristic techno-gothic.

But generally, like supertall buildings, television and comms towers need a structure that can do the job. Most are therefore variations on a monolithic column stayed by a conical or hyperboloid truss.  Zizkov TV Tower (1992, 216m) is an exception.

The structure of the tower is unconventional, consisting of three concrete pillars with a metallic finish which support nine ‘pods’ and three decks for transmitting equipment. (W)

I’ve never been to Prague so the following image is a first time for me. The Zizkov TV Tower doesn’t feature much on postcards. Cameras find other directions to focus. It is difficult to love. Wikimedia says it’s an example of ‘high-tech’ architecture but I’d say it’s more like late-blooming Metabolism.

Like many examples of communist-era architecture in Central and Eastern Europe, the TV tower used to be generally resented by the local inhabitants. It also received a spate of nicknames, mostly alluding to its rocket-like shape, e.g. “Baikonur” after Soviet cosmodrome, “Pershing” after the US IRBM, some more political, like “Jakešův prst” (Jakeš’s finger, after the Secretary General of the Czechoslovak Communist Party), etc. Although official criticism during the time of its construction was impossible, unofficially the tower was lambasted for its ‘megalomania’, its ‘jarring’ effect on the Prague skyline, and for destroying part of a centuries-old Jewish cemetery situated near the tower’s foundations. However, the official line remains that the cemetery was moved some time before the tower was conceived. Recently, the tower’s reputation among Czechs has improved.[2] It has been voted No. 2 on the World’s Ugliest Buildings list.[3]

There are many lists of ugliest buildings in the world but, because of that last sentence, I’d say that the Zizkov TV Tower may be trying to be something, but it’s probably not trying to be beautiful. It’s not really doing much different than this by Hans Hollein. (See

Or this project for Stockholm. I forget who by. I suspect BIG.

2 thoughts on “The Television Tower is Not Trying to Look Beautiful

    1. Graham McKay

      Hi aaaaa. Because we can’t actually see much TV stuff and because it has its own island I expect it was designed to be a tower of the sculptural kind. I quite like it actually. It is trying to be pretty but, although it can be used as a TV tower, it’s pretending not to be one. This does make it seem a bit strange – I mean, if it doesn’t look like it’s doing anything, then what are we supposed to be appreciating? Did somebody look at that island and think “hmm, that island needs something really tall on it – a tower perhaps. Maybe we can put some TV stuff in it?” I was surprised at how high it was – at 368m high it’s taller than Tokyo Tower. But thank you for the link. I think the people who designed this knew what they wanted.

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