What's happening at the top of 103 Colmore Row

Birmingham's, shall we say 'rocky' relationship with sky bars is set to take a helluva turn when D&D launch their as yet unnamed 24th floor restaurant, at 103 Colmore Row. I pride myself on being first through the door at Brum launches but this time I've excelled myself by walking into the restaurant many months too early, with a 2022 opening likely. It's going to be well worth the wait.

On the ground floor, in front of the building, will be a quadruple height winter garden, underneath an as yet unrevealed piece of spectacular public art — perfect for pre-drinks before you ascend. Inside there are 12 lifts including two dedicated elevators serving the roof top restaurant (see in orange, above), shuttling guests past 20 floors of office space, the 18th floor of which has a 3,000 sq ft roof terrace. I've made enquiries about a desk, but office floor plates start at 8,839 sq ft, so it's not looking great for this one-man team.

When you arrive up top it's hard not to be floored with emotion. Beauty, pride, awe, whatever it was, it made me instinctively let slip a long, drawn out F-bomb that I don't remember dropping but was clearly audible on my dictaphone. The 360° views of our town are unlike anything I've ever seen. Each 2.5-tonne, 9 metre glass panel, crystal clear and spanning the full two storey height, the view north towards the BT Tower every bit as handsome as the view south towards Rotunda. It's electric.

D&D have previous when it comes to jaw-dropping interiors — less boxes, more tables is my prediction — and are no strangers to breath-taking views. Their CV includes the immaculate German GymnasiumQuaglino's and the Bluebirds in London, with 20 Storeys in Manchester their most altitude-friendly venue to date — this Birmingham spot going four storeys better, as it's duty-bound to do.

They're staying tight-lipped on designs and positioning of the finished restaurant but it's likely to be 100+ covers, helped along with the kitchen area being a floor below. Designs, however, are advanced on what will doubtless be home to the city's most sought after tables, the tower standing, as it does, 246 metres above sea level and 108 metres from the ground.

The new build replaces the old claret and grey Natwest Tower, a 22-storey concrete number designed by John Madin, work commencing in 1971 and completed in 1976. "It was no longer fit for purpose," says Andrew Hawkins, development director of Sterling Property Ventures, "and had laid empty for 10 years. Yes, preserving buildings is vital, but the Natwest Tower was at the very end of its cycle. It was full of asbestos, impossible to make thermal efficient, impossible to make green. It didn't have enough lifts for modern regulations. There was no way of repurposing it."

Sitting at the junction of Colmore Row and Newhall Street, its £87 million replacement is the tallest commercial building in Birmingham and the tallest new office building outside London. 103 Colmore sits atop a sandstone ridge that runs though the centre of Brum, meaning although some structures in the city are taller, they absolutely don't look it when you're up there. At 152 metres the BT Tower has 103 bested on height (see below), but feels very much on a level. The Cube, at 18 storeys is no tiddler, but sitting down in Gas Street Basin feels dwarfed by 103.

Construction started in December 2018 and since then, contractors BAM have installed 2,440 tonnes of steel, poured 25,000 tonnes of concrete and fitted 2,300 glazing panels. On-site facilities include shower and changing rooms, 24 car parking spaces with charging points, plus 3 motorcycle and 92 bike spots with practical completion set for August 31.

You don't need to hunt the Facebook comments for long to find the development's detractors, the most common criticism being that it's "just a generic glass block". Presumably the same people who balk when Birmingham builds something audacious like, say, Selfridges. "Tall, glass buildings are extremely sympathetic to their surroundings," says Andrew. "And we are bang in the middle of a conservation area. Watch this building and how it behaves in different lights — how it blends in with its surroundings. The reflections working in its favour and in the favour of its neighbours. Complementing them. A lot of thought went into it — right down to small details. The cornice line for example, at the top of the winter garden follows the Victorian cornice line of Colmore Row, so the sight line isn't infringed upon. It's a Millennium building sitting as comfortably as it possibly can in Victorian streets."

For my money, perhaps you can tell, I think it's a marked improvement on its empty, unwanted predecessor. I was crestfallen to see Madin's Central Library fall, perhaps because of the hours and hours I spent in there, pretending to work. I had no connection with the Natwest Tower and doubt many did, but hopefully the replacement, open as it is to the general public, will chime in the hearts of Brummies. "We didn't want to create a landmark building that nobody can go in," says Andrew. "I mean, what's the point? If only the lucky few who work in there, and even fewer who work at the top can enjoy that view. That didn't sit right with us. We had the luxury of being able to build something that could welcome the public to the very top — a luxury all those new residential buildings don't have. So we jumped at the chance." 

For more information head to 103colmorerow.com. Photography by Ross Jukes.