Red Road Flats
|Red Road Flats|
The eight Red Road towers in March 2009. Two of these have since been demolished.
|Architectural style||Brutalist / Modernist|
|Location||Balornock, Glasgow, Scotland|
|Address||Tower 1: 10 Red Road Court
Tower 2: 33 Petershill Drive
Tower 3: 63 Petershill Drive
Tower 4: 93 Petershill Drive
Tower 5: 123 Petershill Drive
Tower 6: 10–30 Petershill Court
Tower 7: 153–213 Petershill Drive
Tower 8: 21 Birnie Court
|Owner||Glasgow Housing Association|
|Roof||Point Blocks=89.0 metres (292 ft)
Slab Blocks=79.0 metres (259 ft)
|Structural system||Steel Frame|
|Floor count||Point Blocks = 31
Slab Blocks = 28
|Lifts/elevators||Point Blocks = 2
Slab Blocks = 3
|Design and construction|
|Architect||Sam Bunton & Associates|
|Structural engineer||W A Fairhurst & Partners|
The Red Road Flats comprise a now-partially demolished mid-twentieth-century high-rise housing complex located between the districts of Balornock and Barmulloch in the north east of the city of Glasgow, Scotland. The estate originally consisted of eight multi-storey blocks of steel frame construction. Two are "slabs", much wider in cross-section than they are deep. Six are "points" — more of a traditional tower block shape. The slabs have 28 floors (26 occupiable + 2 mechanical), the point blocks 31 (30 occupiable + 1 mechanical), and taken together they were designed for a population of 4,700 people. The point blocks are among the tallest buildings in Glasgow at 89 metres (292 ft), second in overall height behind the Bluevale and Whitevale Towers in Camlachie. The 30th floor of the point blocks remains the highest inhabitable floor level of any building in Glasgow.
Views from the upper floors draw the eye along the Campsie Fells to Ben Lomond and the Arrochar Alps, then west past the Erskine Bridge and out to Goat Fell on the Isle of Arran continuing south over Glasgow and East towards Edinburgh. On a clear day, the buildings were visible on the Glasgow skyline from up to 10 miles away. The 31st floor of the point blocks, and the corresponding 28th floor of the slabs were reserved as an communal drying area.
The first block, the 28-floor slab block, was demolished by controlled explosion on 10 June 2012. The steel structured tower took just six seconds to fall after a series of carefully timed explosions, using 275 kg of explosive, ripped along the building around the sixth to eighth floors. The second block, the 31-floor point block on Birnie Court was demolished on 5 May 2013, at 11:46 a.m., taking about four seconds to fall.
As of Spring 2014, with two of the buildings demolished, only Tower 2 (33 Petershill Drive) remains occupied; the deconstruction process now having begun on the remaining five. It is likely that the five under demolition will be demolished in 2014.
After the publication of the Bruce Report in 1946, Glasgow Corporation identified Comprehensive Development Areas (CDAs), which were largely inner-urban districts (such as the Gorbals, Anderston and Townhead), with a high proportion of overcrowded slum housing. These areas would see the mass demolition of overcrowded and insanitary tenement slum housing, and their replacement with lower density housing schemes to create space for modern developments. The dispersed population would be relocated to new estates built on green belt land on the outer periphery of the city's metropolitan area, with others moved out to the New Towns of Cumbernauld and East Kilbride. These initiatives began to be implemented in the late 1950s.
Barlornock was one of the green belt areas that had hitherto little development prior to the construction of the Red Road estate. The original plans for Red Road were far more modest than the high-rise scheme that would ultimately emerge – it called for a complex of maisonettes no taller than 4 storeys. However, what emerged, designed by Glasgow Corporation architect Sam Bunton – conceived the scheme to house a population of 4,700 people, the 28 and 31 storey tower blocks were at the time the highest in Europe, although they were quickly surpassed upon the construction of the 42-storey Barbican Estate in the City of London in 1973.
Contemporary critics of the scheme accused Bunton – who was close to retirement at the time – for championing the development as a personal vanity project; he was well known within Glasgow Corporation as a strong proponent of high-rise housing; his practice having designed other similar multi-storey estates around the city. Bunton was said to have dreamt of "building a Manhattan-style skyscraper" in Glasgow, hence the use of the steel frame construction system in place of the "system-built" pre-fabricated concrete panel method which had been used for all other tower blocks built in the city up until that point. This would create one of the estate's most significant legacies – steel construction had to be fire-proofed, which meant the use of asbestos, a legacy which would blight the estate in the coming years. Bunton argued for the steel frame in numerous letters to the Glasgow Herald in February 1963, claiming "it is the best material available in the construction field since it brings into active participation an array of steel erectors, and the resources of an industry which is at present only working at one-third of its capacity", thus suggesting that local politics (primarily lobbying from Glasgow's underworked steel fabrication industries) had shaped the design of the buildings in other ways.
The first three towers were formally opened on 28 October 1966, by the then Scottish Secretary, Willie Ross. For most of the early residents, living in the flats meant a considerable and welcome rise in their living conditions, since most had previously lived in much worse housing, often severely overcrowded, either nearby or elsewhere in the city. From the time they were built until recent years, they were owned by the local council.
Use of asbestos
During the original construction, large amounts of asbestos were used to ensure the structural integrity of the buildings' steel frames in the event of a fire. Despite contemporary concerns at the time over the suitability of the nature of the fire proofing solution used in the buildings, Bunton vehemently defended it, stating in an article to the International Asbestos Cement Review in 1966; "steel and asbestos in partnership with social others operate as the collective that stabilises Red Road and holds it together, albeit provisionally, as a viable, safe housing solution".
Two decades later it became widely known that the use of this material caused a number of illnesses and deaths, and whilst some of it was removed over the course of the life of the buildings – between 1979 and 1982 the buildings were fitted with coloured metal overcladding to cover the exterior asbestos walls, whilst the slab blocks had additional external fire escapes built in the late 80s. However, asbestos was integral to their structure and could not be fully removed until the buildings were demolished. Subsequently, new tenants to the buildings were forbidden from drilling into walls and ceilings due to the risk of releasing asbestos fibres into the atmosphere. This has created significant challenges to the demolition process and a slab of asbestos was dropped from a significant height onto a nursery in June 2011.
By the 1970s the estate had gained a reputation for anti-social crime, ranging from disaffected youths throwing objects from the roofs and frequent burglaries. Such problems were less severe than those evident in parts of the city such as the nearby low-rise Blackhill estate, long dominated by ruthless crime gangs. But they were able to strike a nerve in the perceptions of non-residents, owing partly to the "looming" ambience of the blocks which in some ways might be called emblematic. The slab blocks, for example, are not only 25 storeys high but also almost 100 metres wide.
A major turning point came in August 1977, when a fire started by vandals in an empty flat on the 23rd Floor of 10 Red Road Court, caused serious structural damage to the building, resulting in the death of a 12-year old boy and a large number of tenants being evacuated. Many refused to return to their ruined homes, since the fire had brought to the fore the issues surrounding the asbestos lining used in the buildings, and prompted the outer refurbishment of the towers. As a mark of respect – the flat on Floor 23 of 10 Red Road Court was never let out again for rent, and instead was refurbished as a drop-in "community flat" with social amenities for the whole estate.
Around 1980 the authorities declared two of the blocks (the aforementioned 10 Red Road Court, and 33 Petershill Drive) unfit as family accommodation and transferred them for use by students and the YMCA respectively. These happened to be the blocks closest to the front of the complex when approached from the city centre. Being nearest the bus stop, they were also easiest to locate for those who were new to the city, to Scotland, or to the UK as a whole – as many of the YMCA guests and college students are.
By the time the 1980s had dawned, it had become clear that the optimism that had surrounded the policy of high rise housing had waned in less than two decades, and despite attempts to regenerate the estate, drug dealing, muggings and other serious crime continued, and the towers – owing to their symbolic status as Glasgow's tallest buildings – also came a popular spot for suicides. Along with the equally controversial and derided Hutchesontown C estate in the Gorbals, Red Road became increasingly looked upon as a monument to the errors of Glasgow's ambitious post-war housing renewal policy.
Measures were introduced in the 1980s which gave residents increased protection. These included the control of access through the communal entrance doors by means of RFID keys and intercoms, and the installation of round-the-clock concierge facilities. The level of anti-social crime fell dramatically.
Transfer to housing association ownership
The position changed dramatically in 2003 when the flats were transferred, after a ballot, to a housing association en masse in the shape of the Glasgow Housing Association Ltd. The practice of transferring housing stock from public to private ownership had initially been launched in the 1970s as a flagship policy promoted by the Conservative Party. At that time, the recipients were individual tenants who opted to buy their homes, or long-term leases thereon. Twenty years later the policy was continued by the Labour Party led council, which transferred its entire housing stock to a single company set up for the purpose.
Soon the new landlords as well as the council insisted that repairs were costing more than receipts in rent, and that big changes therefore had to be made. In 2005 Glasgow Housing Association announced its intention to demolish one of the tallest blocks as part of a regeneration of the area.
Defend council housing, a pro-council housing campaign group, have set up a local campaign against the demolition, seeking to ensure the scheme's continued existence. However, all the eight buildings were planned for phased demolition beginning in the spring of 2010 and expected to be accomplished within a decade.
On 7 March 2010, the Serykh family, three asylum seekers, jumped to their death from one of the towers. These deaths galvanised much in the way of action in and around the Red Road. Various projects now exist to document the end of the flats positively, with the hope that everyone with memories of the flats will contribute actively to the projects as best they can.
The first demolition took place on 10 June 2012 with the destruction of the triple tower block on 153–213 Petershill Drive. The second demolition followed on 5 May 2013 with the destruction of the 30-floor point block on Birnie Court. The remaining six multi-storeys in the area are due to be demolished by 2017.
In April 2014, it was announced that five of the remaining towers would be given a dramatic Las Vegas-style explosive demolition as part of the 2014 Commonwealth Games opening ceremony. The spectacle would have the five towers simultaneously felled by controlled explosion, with the footage being broadcast live to large screens in Celtic Park.
Former MSP Carolyn Leckie had criticised the demolition plans and called for the five flats to be "demolished with dignity, not for entertainment". She has said "the image of tower blocks coming down is not a positive international spectacle" and suggests it also conveys disregard for the asylum seekers living in the sixth tower, which will remain standing. The demolition plan for the Commonwealth Games was cancelled for safety reasons, but the flats are still to be demolished.
In popular culture
The towers have often been used as locations by photographers and film makers, and have been the subject of various literary works. As well as making numerous appearances in the STV police drama Taggart, the estate was featured in the 2006 film, Red Road, which won a BAFTA and the Prix de Jury (third prize) at the Cannes film festival.
In July 2007, the French high wire artist Didier Pasquette, a protege of Philippe Petit (famous for his high wire walk between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York), undertook a high wire stunt between two of the Red Road towers, attempting to cross the 150 ft gap between Towers 4 and 5. Although thwarted by Glasgow's temperamental weather he managed to walk 30 feet across the chasm, backwards on one occasion.
From 19 February to 27 June 2010, the Red Road flats featured in the "Multi-Story" exhibition at Glasgow's Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA). Multi-story is a collaborative arts project based in the Red Road, established in 2004 by Street Level Photoworks in partnership with The Scottish Refugee Council and the YMCA.
On 14 March 2010 "The Sunday Times" in Scotland featured the recollections of Glasgow born film-maker, Matt Quinn, who grew up in the flats. Clydeside TV have now commissioned a film with the working title of "Skyscraper We'ans" that intends to pay tribute to the positive aspects of growing up in the Red Road. This film is to date entirely self-financed without any kind of sponsorship or external commission.
Glasgow Life, a part of the city authorities, have an ongoing project to document the Red Road experience this features specially commissioned photography, film and even a novel to celebrate life in 'the scheme'. On 15 March 2010 this was updated to include volume 1 of "Your Stories" which features the recollections of the area by various local people. Alison Irvine published the novel This Road Is Red (2012); a collection of semi-fictional stories based on anecdotes from real-life residents over the 50-year history of the estate. The novel was illustrated by Mitch Miller, who produced a series of 4 dialectograms (large-scale documentary plan drawings) depicting everyday life within the flats.
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- [dead link]
- Irvine, Alison (2012). This Road Is Red. Luath Press Ltd. p. 310. ISBN 1-906817-81-2.
- "Red Road Dialectograms".