Red Road Flats
|Red Road Flats|
The eight Red Road towers. Two out of the eight towers have now 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 (demolished)
Tower 8: 21 Birnie Court (demolished)
|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|
|Owner||Glasgow Housing Association|
|Architect||Sam Bunton & Associates|
|Structural engineer||W A Fairhurst & Partners|
The Red Road Flats make up a condemned high-rise housing complex which lies 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, the points 31, 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 Gallowgate Twins (109 Bluevale Street/51 Whitevale Street) in Camlachie, but still hold the record for the highest occupied 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.
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 30-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 May 2013, Towers 1, 5 and 6 are undergoing demolition.
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 six point blocks were given metal overcladding over the exterior asbestos panelling, whilst the slab blocks had additional external fire escapes built. 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.
As depression set in by the mid-1970s, the estate 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 as 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.
By around the start of the 1990s, residents included a number of refugees from Kosovo. Today people also live on the estate who have fled from countries elsewhere in Africa, Asia, and Europe.
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 enthusiastically backed in a more wide-ranging and collectivist form by Glasgow's Labour Party council, which transferred its entire housing stock to a single company set up for the purpose. This change amounted to the largest transfer of public-sector housing stock that had ever taken place in western Europe. Local authority publicists promised tenants that following transfer the carrying out of necessary repairs would be expedited.
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. This was very different from what they had said prior to privatisation. At that time, they made no linkage between expected rental income and the making of repairs. At no time did they state that the landlords' financial income would have any bearing on tenants' rights to live in accommodation which was publicly owned, publicly subsidised, and properly looked-after. In 2005 Glasgow Housing Association announced its intention to demolish one of the tallest blocks as part of a regeneration of the area.
Meanwhile, thousands of people continue to live there, among whom there is considerable opposition to the plans to demolish their homes. As one manifestation of this, the Save Our Homes group seeks to ensure the scheme's continued existence. This is part of a growing movement to defend council housing in Britain. However, all the eight buildings are 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 popular culture
The iconic and intimidating appearance of the towers has always made them a favourite of 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. The landlords and their publicists, together with players in the commercial property business, as well as the council, describe the flats (and therefore those who want to keep their homes) as being of the past, and (lucrative) 'development' as being of the future. Cultural figures celebrate the use of an atmospheric cinematic location.
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 3 and 4. 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.
More recently, as demolition work on the estate gathers pace, local author Alison Irvine published the novel This Road Is Red (2012); a collection of stories and anecdotes from real-life residents over the 50-year history of the estate.
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- Smith, Claire (20 February 2010). "Exhibition shows rise and fall of Glasgow's Red Road tower blocks". The Scotsman. Retrieved 20 February 2010.
- Glendinning, Miles (1994). Tower Block. Yale University Press. p. 428. ISBN 0300054440.
- Bunton, Samuel (9 February 1963). "Letter to Edtor". Glasgow Herald.
- Jacobs, J.M.; Cairns, S. and Strebel, I. '‘A tall storey…but, a fact just the same’: The Red Road highrise as a black box.', 2006, University of Edinburgh School of Geosciences
- Bunton, S; & Associates (October). "Balornock Glasgow Red Road Development". International Asbestos Cement Review 44 (1): 20–25.
- Williamson, Elizabeth, et al. The Buildings of Scotland: Glasgow, Penguin Books 1990, p. 477
- "Asbestos Removal". Red Road Demolition.
- "Workers drop asbestos 120ft onto nursery children during botched demolition of Red Road flats". Daily Record. 8 June 2011.
- Glendinning, Miles. "Feature – Red Road". Scottish Architecture.com. Retrieved 8 April 2008.
- "website of the Glasgow Housing Association Ltd – the landlord". Gha.org.uk.
- "City tower block to be demolished". BBC News. 9 March 2005.
- "Save Our Homes – anti-demolition tenants' group". Saveourhomes.blogspot.com.
- "pressure group". Defend Council Housing.
- "Glasgow Architecture, May 2008". Glasgowarchitecture.co.uk.
- McLean, Pauline (28 December 2009). "Mapping the end of the Red Road flats". BBC News.
- "Three dead in plunge from flats". BBC News. 7 March 2010. Retrieved 2010-05-22.
- "Glasgow skyline changes as Red Road flats are demolished". BBC News. 10 June 2012.
- "Watch the demolition here…". Red Road Demolition. 31 May 2012.
- Stephens, Simon. "Red Road demolition ends Glasgow tower blocks' high art". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 June 2012.
- "Museums". Glasgowmuseums.com. 17 November 2009.
- Bremner, Charles. "The Rise and Fall of Glasgow's Red Road". The Sunday Times (London). Retrieved 24 October 2011.
- [dead link]
- Irvine, Alison (2012). This Road Is Red. Luath Press Ltd. p. 310. ISBN 1-906817-81-2.
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