Sparks and Spikes

Posted by editor on June 11, 2009 under Art, sport and leisure, Community

Len Grant accepts an invitation to witness the dismantling of B of the Bang close-up


It was less than five years ago that I was in hard hat and yellow vest, photographing the B of the Bang being constructed. An intricate scaffold had been erected around the central core as cranes lifted spike after spike to be bolted and welded into position. Something unique and exciting was happening. Photographers and film crews regularly positioned themselves across the road junction, as Britain’s tallest sculpture grew. There was even a feature on BBC’s Newsnight.

Now it’s June 2009 and I am back on site again, this time documenting the sculpture being dismantled. It saddens me that the life of this spectacular structure has been cut short, although its demise was inevitable after a catalogue of insurmountable problems.

The cranes and the man-rider baskets are back, but this time the workers have oxyacetylene torches rather than welding irons. I’ve met these guys before: Connell Brothers demolished Maine Road football stadium in 2004, a job most of them relished, as they were all United fans!

This morning Neil Doherty from Connells has offered me a trip in the ‘Ultra Boom’, a gigantic telescopic cherry-picker that will take us up about 30 metres alongside the sculpture’s central core. Having completed my site safety training on a previous visit, I step into a harness and climb onto the small metal platform.

As Neil starts the ascent I soon have great views across Beswick and Clayton, and towards New Islington and the city centre. Most of the spikes have already been removed from this side, the tightly-packed truncated stumps a reminder of the design complexity of Thomas Heatherwick’s creation.

Normally, heights don’t worry me, but as we get level with the man-rider basket, our platform wobbles ominously.

“Do you want to go any higher?” smiles Neil. “We’re only three-quarters extended.”

I look down. “No, no. This will be fine,” I reply, concentrating on taking pictures to take my mind off my exhilarating -– and yet precarious – situation.

In the man-rider work is underway to remove another of the 180 spikes. They have already cut a hole in the tapered end of the spike and threaded through a chain which will lower the dismembered appendage to the ground. Thankfully it takes only a couple of minutes before the final section is cut and the hollow spike breaks clear.

I follow its descent and then suggest to Neil that I have plenty of images from this angle and we head down. The site will be cleared within weeks: cranes, men and spikes gone. It’ll be a sad day for me.