Why I'll be celebrating the demolition of Glasgow's Red Road tower blocks

Too many of these concrete carbuncles are still standing

Share

No one familiar with the image of the Red Road blocks in Glasgow can be other than relieved to learn that they are to be blown up. Whether the Opening Ceremony of the Commonwealth Games is the correct time and opportunity may be arguable, but their imminent disappearance from the landscape is certainly a cause for celebration.

When built in the 1960s, in part to house those cleared from the notorious Gorbals slums, the towers were welcomed. They offered flats which, in addition to offering poor Glaswegians indoor bathrooms, were spacious and, well, new. But before long they began developing the problems now commonly associated with this form of housing.

As they rose to punch the sky like rude finger gestures, the authorities erecting them were ignoring the warning of June Jacobs. The celebrated American journalist and author had launched a scathing attack in 1961 on the Modernist/Rational approach to planning, which she condemned as inimical to human beings. In the 1970s Oscar Newman coined the phrase “defensible space”, which he considered a basic human requirement for well-being and which is notably absent from high-rise social housing design of that era.

Yet up they kept going all over the country. In 1968 the partial collapse of Ronan Point in Newham following a gas explosion mercifully put a stop to the very tall ones. But the disaster was not a consequence of the height but the concrete panel systems and the shoddy construction methods often used to put them up. Accident investigators found crumpled newspapers and fag packets stuffed into gaps which should have been filled with cement. Now wonder it crumpled like a house of cards.

But the concrete panel merchants simply revised their sales pitch to councils, offering them “streets in the sky” instead. Unlike real streets, these “deck access” blocks gave residents no defensible space, while vandals and criminals could easily avoid capture by just running through them.

Architect John Poulson and politician T Dan Smith, whose corrupt and toxic partnership left our friends in the North with a dreadful legacy of social housing, carried on until they were found guilty. But not of building horrible homes for people with no choice, just making too much money out of it. And Poulson was not expelled from the Royal Institute of British Architects until after his criminal conviction.

The National Building Agency (NBA), set up to advise councils in the 1970s, was a malevolent influence operating on behalf of concrete system manufacturers. Some of the results, like Lakanal House in South London, are still a risk to their occupiers lives, as the fatal fire there a few years ago showed.

Professor Alice Coleman’s 1985 book Utopia on Trial won her the sworn enmity of Modernist and public sector designers and planners - and a Gold Medal from the Royal Geographical Society. It directly took on, and, the self-interested theories about the UK’s post-war social housing.

Many of those concrete carbuncles have been demolished, but too many are still standing. If it takes the Commonwealth Game Wow factor to get rid of a few more, then so be it.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Langley James : Web Developer; PHP, MySQL, Java; Blackfriars; £25k

£25000 per annum + training: Langley James : Web Developer; PHP, MySQL, Java; ...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Sales Manager - Holiday Homes - £100,000 OTE

£40000 - £60000 per annum + £100,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: Birmingham, Derby, L...

h2 Recruit Ltd: New Business Sales Manager - Talent Management - £60,000 OTE

£35000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: h2 Recruit Ltd: A true market leader in ...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Consultant - OTE £35,000

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Development Consulta...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The racy marketing to entice consumers to buy Fairlife, which launches in the US next month  

The Fairlife 'Coke Milk' adverts: Do we really need pin-up girls to sell us drinks?

Ylva Johannesson
Australian cricketer Phil Hughes has died aged 25  

Phillip Hughes: A sensational man, both on and off the pitch

Angus Fraser
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

When two worlds collide

Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?