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My oasis in the sky
Head in the clouds? Far from it. Architect Ian Simpson invited BBC Manchester into his penthouse apartment to talk about life on top of the Beetham Tower – and his own olive grove.
Tranquil: the olive grove
For someone who lives in the highest apartment in Europe, Ian Simpson is a down to earth kind of guy.
Brought up in Heywood between Bury and Rochdale, his father demolished mill chimneys for a living. But despite a background of knocking down Manchester’s tallest structures, Ian now puts them up.
Architect Ian Simpson
He’s already shaped Manchester’s skyline designing No.1 Deansgate and Urbis. But it’s the Beetham Tower - icon of Manchester’s growth and his new home - for which he’s best known.
So what’s it like living there?
"It’s a bit of an oasis," he told BBC Radio Manchester's Rebekah Crabtree. "It’s only 45 seconds away from the bustle of the city centre. But when you get up here, it’s very tranquil, it’s very light and you can look around the city, so you can isolate yourself.
"And that’s the sort of thing that I think is really special about high level, high rise living."
By any measure, Ian Simpson’s penthouse apartment is breathtaking. Firstly, there’s the view.
At 160m above ground level, it has incomparable views of Manchester. The city’s former landmark structures - Central Library, the vast roof of Manchester Central, and Alfred Waterhouse’s iconic Town Hall are all revealed from this new iconic vantage point.
Further afield, Ian Simpson, his partner and their cat can look out in all directions across the entire region where, on a clear day, Snowdon, Jodrell Bank, Blackpool Tower and the Liverpool skyline are all visible.
“The views are outstanding,” he said. “Although I don’t like it when it’s stormy. The wind blows so hard that it’s almost like being at sea. It can get quite scary.”
Secondly, there’s the apartment itself.
Interview: talking on Radio Manchester
Occupying the top two floors – 47 and 48 - this vast living space with its lofty ceilings is filled with natural light, in a way that other loft apartments are not.
But its most stunning feature is Manchester’s most talked about, and possibly only, olive grove in what Ian calls his ‘garden.’
A grove of 27 mature olive trees imported from Italy were installed before the completion of the building and are thriving despite their unusual location.
“What we’ve tried to create is almost a Mediterranean space,” he said. "The whole thing is arranged so that it get’s the sun all day. So it’s a very tranquil, very peaceful space.”
Cityscape: view from the top
Mr Simpson admits that the Beetham's bold and dynamic design isn’t to everyone’s taste, but believes that 'it’s something that many Mancunians take pride in,' representing the future and ambition of the city.
So does living in one of his own buildings make the Beetham special?
"Definitely," he said. "A lot of architects like to design modern buildings, but live in Georgian ones.
"When I designed this building I knew that it could give me this wonderful space, with the height and the light that I wouldn’t get anywhere else.
"Put it this way, I’m not planning on moving. This is it now. This is home."
Ian Simpson was talking as part of the Changing Cityscapes series on BBC News (27 April - 01 May 2009)
last updated: 28/04/2009 at 10:34