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London’s BT Tower is to be ‘repurposed’ – let’s just hope no one messes with its 60s perfection

<span>London’s BT Tower.</span><span>Photograph: Vuk Valcic/Shutterstock</span>
London’s BT Tower.Photograph: Vuk Valcic/Shutterstock

In his 1994 movie London, a classic of poetical-geographical film-making, its director-writer Patrick Keiller speculates that the BT tower, that rises on the site that once contained a flat inhabited by Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud, is a secret monument to the French poets’ love. This is one of many instances of this structure’s ability to generate myths – legend also had it that, as military secret, it couldn’t be shown on Ordnance Survey maps. With its slender vertical fuselage and long-stalled revolving restaurant, it speaks of the hopeful futurism of the 1960s, of the white heat of technology, of Minis and miniskirts and the Beatles.

Its sale, for £275m, by BT to a hotel group, if it gives the tower a secure future, is welcome. I’m more troubled by the reports that the designer Thomas Heatherwick is to “repurpose” the building. His past work shows that he’s not one to leave well alone, but rather festoon structures with over-sized flower-pots and look-at-me swirling shapes. One can only hope that he discovers some restraint. The BT Tower is already an icon. It’s perfect. Let it be.

Estate agents, step up

I’m helping a 70something relative find a new home. Her needs are simple – everything essential on one level – but hard to meet. Victorian houses are usually terrible for people with limited mobility, with steps in multiple locations, which makes modern flats the most likely option. The search is made harder by the fact that you have to guess from often inadequate plans and photographs on property websites whether a home for sale or rent is suitable, and then make futile visits to them. Here’s a suggestion to Zoopla, Rightmove and the estate agents that advertise on their sites: add to your various filters one that tells you whether a property is step-free and accessible. It would, for many people, be quietly transformative.

Pride of Rochdale

Voters in Rochdale may be losing faith in politics, says the BBC, and you can see why. Previous MPs include the paedophile Cyril Smith, in place for 20 years, and Simon Danczuk, who resigned in 2017 over reports that he had sexted a 17-year-old girl. In this week’s byelection, their choice includes a Labour candidate disowned by his party, the clownish George Galloway, an also-disowned Green party candidate and the same Simon Danczuk who, having once declared that he wouldn’t return to politics, is running for the Ukip legacy party known as Reform UK. Much better for Rochdale is the reopening next month of its 153-year-old town hall, a work of unbounded neo-gothic splendour, its interior a gilded forest of stained glass, tilework and wall painting, dense with foliage and heraldry. It has been restored with the help of the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the work of 500 volunteers, and rooms previously closed to the public will be opened up. I’m not sure that magnificent civic architecture can make up for chaotic politics, but in and of itself it should be a source of delight and pride.

Never say never

An updated edition has come out of Error of Judgement, the 1986 book in which the journalist and MP Chris Mullin demonstrated the innocence of the Birmingham Six, who spent 16 years in prison for murderous bombings they did not commit. The book is a horrifying account not only of a vast miscarriage of justice but also of the extent to which those in power would go to cover it up. Which, in view of the Post Office scandal, continues to be an urgent matter. Never again, it was said after the six were exonerated. Sadly, that wish hasn’t come true.

• Rowan Moore is the Observer’s architecture critic

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