|Location||Gorbals, Glasgow, Scotland|
|Design and construction|
Hutchesontown C was the name given to a Comprehensive Development Area (CDA) of an area of Hutchesontown, a district in the city of Glasgow, Scotland. Its centrepiece were two 20-storey slab blocks at 16-32 Queen Elizabeth Square, designed by Sir Basil Spence and containing 400 homes. Acclaimed by architects and modernists, the flats became riddled with damp and infestations, which could not be cured even with a major renovation in the late 1980s. They were demolished in 1993, killing a spectator in the process.
The aim was to replace 62 acres (250,000 m2) of slums in Hutchesontown with new low and high rise housing, schools and shops. The development consisted of three phases — A, B and C — each designed by a different architect. Sir Basil Spence and his assistant Robert Matthew were assigned their site in a series of meetings at the Department of Health for Scotland in late 1957 and 1958.
Hutchesontown C was commissioned in 1959, with Spence receiving assistance from a project architect, Charles Robertson. Spence and Robertson, partly inspired by Le Corbusier’s giant maisonette blocks in Marseille, designed two "colossal, rugged 20-storey slabs" featuring inset communal balconies. In revealing the design, Spence said to the Glasgow Corporation's Housing Committee that "on Tuesdays, when all the washing's out, it'll be like a great ship in full sail", a reference to Glasgow's shipbuilding heritage. He hoped to revive working-class life of the tenement back green. His remarks helped break down resistance to tall blocks among the councillors.
Although Spence began work in 1960 at about the same time as constructors Wimpey began work on their three 20-storey blocks in Hutchesontown A, Wimpey's flats were ready for occupation before Spence had finished his foundations. Queen Elizabeth II unveiled a commemorative plaque on the base of the block on 30 June 1961. The Scottish Office normally set a ceiling on costs of housing at £2,800 per dwelling, but Spence was allowed to exceed it; Robertson recalled that the width of some flats was reduced by half an inch in order that their cost came down to below £3,000 per flat. The Glasgow Corporation and the Housing committee under David Gibson made an exception to their normal demand for speed and output in housing schemes on the prestigious project. The construction work was undertaken by Holland & Hannen and Cubitts (Scotland) Ltd, and the buildings were finally ready for occupation in 1965.
The blocks were popularly known as 'Hutchie C' and nicknamed 'The Hanging Gardens of the Gorbals' in reference to the large balconies arranged in groups of four throughout the building. For the first ten years the building was reasonably popular with its inhabitants. However living in the development proved less glamorous as the maintenance required for such a large and complex structure was underestimated from the beginning. By November 1976, the local MP Frank McElhone, councillors and Scottish Office officials, attended a meeting called by the Laurieston and Hutchesontown Tenants' Associations who pressed for solution to the problem of damp and fungus in the buildings, which led to water running down the walls and water beetles lodging in children's clothing. Several tenants had been following a rent strike for a year in order to get action from Glasgow City Council. The future of the blocks was a major issue in the 1982 by-election in the Glasgow Queen's Park burgh constituency which covered the site.
The persistent dampness, coupled with the attendant problems of vandalism and the uncompromising design, meant that by the 1980s the complex had become a by-word for all that was worst in public sector housing. In 1987 and 1988, the City Council undertook a major renovation, adding a sloping white roof with pediments, placing bright blue cladding around the exteriors of lift shafts, and enclosing the by-then unusable balconies in conservatories.
Despite the work, the dampness problem was not solved. In early 1993 the City Council found that £15-20m needed to be spent to make the flats habitable and the remaining tenants were decanted in preparation for demolition. The modernist architectural conservation organisation DoCoMoMo protested at the decision and applied to Historic Scotland to have the buildings listed and preserved; they included the blocks as one of Scotland's key modernist monuments.
On Sunday 12 September 1993 Glasgow City Council invited local people and the media to witness the 'blowdown' of the blocks at noon. The public viewing area was placed too close to the building and debris hit the crowd, killing 61-year-old Helen Tinney who lived locally and injuring four others. Miles Glendinning and Stephen Muthesius' book "Tower Block" published the following year expressed the hope that it might also have "dealt a fatal blow to that most conspicuous ritual of Anti-Modernism–the demolition of tower blocks as public theatre". The inquiry into the accident revealed that the demolition contractor had used twice the amount of explosive necessary to fell the structures - no explosive demolition of a tower block was carried out in Glasgow for another 10 years, partly as a consequence.
The Royal Institute of British Architects' book about Spence's life and work, "Basil Spence: Buildings and Projects", published in 2012, remarks that in hindsight, Hutchesontown C diverged sharply from Spence's other mass-housing projects and that there is a debate about whether his attempt to design a building with a "forceful, metaphoric character" was appropriate for mass housing. The book complains about the "indignant media cacophony" which accompanied debates about Hutchesontown C before it was demolished.
The buildings were held up as monuments to the failure (along with other high rise estates such as Red Road) of Glasgow's post-war housing renewal policy, and despite their demolition they do however retain some notoriety. An exhibition at Gorbals Library paying tribute to Spence in early 2008 was heavily criticised by a former local councillor who noted that the blocks had become known as 'Alcatraz'.
- "Basil Spence: Buildings and Projects", ed. by Louise Campbell, Miles Glendinning and Jane Thomas, RIBA Publishing, 2012, p. 217.
- Miles Glendinning and Stephen Muthesius, "Tower Block", Yale University Press, 1994, p. 169-70.
- Glendinning and Muthesius, p. 224.
- "The Queen sees old and new Gorbals", The Times, 1 July 1961, p. 6.
- "Basil Spence: Buildings and Projects", p. 220.
- "20 Storeys for Gorbals", The Times, 29 May 1963, p. 22.
- "Basil Spence: Buildings and Projects", p. 221.
- John Kerr, "Rot sets in to bright new Gorbals", The Guardian, 27 November 1976.
- Robert Low, "The vanishing voters of Queen's Park, Glasgow", The Observer, 28 November 1982, p. 4.
- Glasgow Herald, 4 January 1988, p. 6.
- Amanda Baillieu, "An asset for Glasgow", The Independent, 28 April 1993.
- Glendinning and Muthesius, p. 327.
- "Basil Spence: Buildings and Projects", p. 222.
- Graeme Murray, "Fury over Gorbals tribute to man who designed 'Alcatraz', Evening Times, 16 January 2008.
- Queen Elizabeth Tower Blocks, The Gorbals, Glasgow, Scotland (Sir Basil Spence official site)