The rise and fall of “B of the Bang”

Monday, 7th February 2011 by

Back in 2005, when Google Sightseeing was brand new, we were desperate for Google to add aerial images of Manchester and catch a glimpse of the UK’s tallest sculpture, B of the Bang. It’s now six years since the unveiling, during which time the ambitious monument has been completely dismantled, but the delay inherent in Google Maps updates gives us one final chance to take a tour.

Looking like some sort of massive detonation in the sky, B of the Bang was commissioned to commemorate the 2002 Commonwealth Games held in Manchester. Designed by Thomas Heatherwick, the sculpture was inspired by a Linford Christie quote, where the world-class British sprinter said that he started his races not merely at the ‘bang’ of the starting pistol, but at ‘The B of the Bang’.

Early estimates apparently quoted an optimistic completion date of July 2003, so by the time the finished sculpture was eventually unveiled by Christie himself in January 2005, it had long since earned the nickname “G of the Bang”.

B of the Bang was constructed from the same weathering steel as The Angel of The North, but at 56m was nearly three times taller and was – for a time – the UK’s tallest sculpture1.

It also leant at an angle of 30 degrees from vertical2, which due to its height meant that it actually extended over a nearby road. Not a worry perhaps, except for the fact that six days before the unveiling, the tip of one of the structure’s 180 steel spikes fell off.

An investigation had been conducted prior the unveiling and, despite the missing piece, the sculpture remained open to the public until May of 2005, when another spike was discovered to have the tip dangling precariously off.

Despite the re-welding and addition of tip weights to nearly all of the spikes, B of the Bang never re-opened. In 2008 Manchester City Council came to an out-of-court settlement with Thomas Heatherwick Studio Ltd., who agreed to pay £1.7m in damages for breach of contract and negligence. In February 2009 Manchester City Council announced the structure would be dismantled, although they stated their intention to find a “robust and affordable strategy for the re-construction of the structure on the site”.

The process of dismantling the sculpture began in April 2009, and Google’s aerial imagery has captured the scene with many of the spikes having already been removed.

From certain angles around the junction, we can see that Street View has captured even more recent images, in which only the sculpture’s central core remains. The single-piece core and legs were ultimately cut into pieces – casting doubt over the possibility of a future reinstatement.

Since the birth of Street View it was obvious that Google were, perhaps inadvertently, creating records of our cities in a way that had never been possible before. The remaining images of B of the Bang will probably be replaced following the next passing of Google’s camera car, and once that happens, no record of the monument will be left on Street View.

Privacy issues have plagued Street View at every step of its development, and it remains to be seen if Google will be allowed to retain or publish what could potentially become a hugely important historical record of our time.

Read more about B of the Bang on Wikipedia, or read an eyewitness account of it being dismantled.

Do you know of building or monument visible on Street View that no longer exists in the real world?

  1. Until the completion of Aspire in 2008. 

  2. That’s further than the Leaning Tower of Pisa – which is as it turns out, is just barely visible on Street View