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Glasgow academics weigh in on Red Road flats demolition

Academics from Glasgow School of Art (GSA) have slammed the ‘poor taste of making a spectacle out of the Red Road flats demolition’

In a letter to Scottish newspaper The Herald, academics from the school weighed in on the controversial plans to flatten the remaining Red Road tower blocks as part of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games opening ceremony.

Calling the plans ‘crass and insensitive’ the scholars, which include School of Architecture head and founding director of Studio KAP Chris Platt, have called for the towers to be ‘dismantled with shame and humility’.

The group has joined the growing number opposed to the ‘bizarre’ plans to blow up the five 1960s towers as part of a global TV spectacle.

A petition against the proposals launched by former Scottish Socialist MSP Carolyn Leckie earlier this week has now amassed more than 16,000 supporters.

On Wednesday (9 April) following the public outcry, Games organisers agreed to meet with Leckie and Len Bunton,the son of the flats original architect Sam Bunton to discuss the plans.

The full text of the letter

Making a spectacle out of the demolition of the Red Road flats at the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games is in poor taste.

They should be dismantled with shame and humility and a resolve to make a better city, not with triumphalism, a sporting commentary and some firecrackers.

The event is unlikely to resonate with those who lived there and goodness only knows what the rest of the world will make of celebrating the opening of “the Friendly Games” with destruction. The image of exploding towers is all too raw for far too many people in far too many places.

This week, Glasgow celebrated the official opening of the new building by Steven Holl Architects named in honour of Dame Seona Reid and sitting respectfully opposite Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s masterwork. There is also fine, innovative social housing taking shape in New Gorbals within spitting distance of the recently-demolished tower blocks there. We should be celebrating these arrivals, all delivered with the leadership and support of Glasgow City Council, rather than gloating over the towers’ departure.

Removal of the tower blocks of Glasgow is certainly an important part of the city’s story that should be recorded and shared widely as an achievement, but to celebrate this with a live spectacle at an international sporting event is crass and insensitive. This should be substituted in the ceremony with a proper celebration of the truly outstanding heritage of architecture and design in Glasgow that has and will endure.

Professor Christopher Platt, Head of School; Professor Brian Evans, Head of Urbanism; Dr Johnny Rodger, Reader in Urban Literature; Professor Florian Urban, Head of History of Architecture & Urban Studies; Sally Stewart Head of Postgraduate School; Alan Hooper Head of Undergraduate School; Robert Mantho, Urban Architecture & Urban Design; Henry McKeown, Architectural Design; Dr Robyne Erica Calvert, History of Architecture; James Mitchell, Humanitarian Architecture, The Mackintosh School of Architecture of The Glasgow School of Art, 167 Renfrew Street, Glasgow.

Previous story (AJ 9.4.14)

Games organisers to talk to objectors over Red Road towers demolition stunt

Glasgow Commonwealth Games organisers are to meet with objectors over controversial plans to demolish the remaining Red Road tower blocks as part of the event’s opening ceremony

Games chiefs have agreed to talks with former Scottish Socialist MSP Carolyn Leckie and Len Bunton, the son of the flats original architect Sam Bunton.

Leckie is responsible for organising a petition against the showcase of the flats demolition which has so far amassed more than 13,000 signatories.

Opposition has continued to grow against ‘bizarre’ plans to blow up five of the remaining 1960s towers in a global TV spectacle since the proposals were announced last week.

Speaking to the AJ, Bunton confirmed a meeting had been arragned for next Tuesday (15 April) adding that he had also written to Lord Smith of Kelvin, chairman of the Games Organising Committee. But he said: ‘It is very unclear where any decision making lies’.

Bunton commented: ‘The groundswell of objections to the plans has been phenomenal. They will have to reverse the decision to showcase the demolition of the flats - if the organisers don’t there will be further objections. People will not walk away from this. I for one, won’t just give up.

He added: ‘There has been no consultation on this. If this is the way politics in Scotland works then I will not be voting for independence.’

The groundswell of objections has been phenomenal

A spokesperson for Glasgow 2014 said: ‘A wide range of opinions have been expressed about this element of the Opening Ceremony.

‘We welcome the opportunity to discuss our plans with Carolyn Leckie and the meeting will take place next week. At the meeting we will share more about the context and importance of Red Road’s role within the ceremony.

We want the story of Glasgow and Scotland to be real and authentic and reflecting the lives and history of communities such as Red Road, especially at such an important point in their regeneration.’

It remains unclear whether the decision could be reversed. According to The Scotsman, Smith had indicated the plan was ‘not yet a done deal’ and that there was still room for movement on the decision. But a spokesperson for the Games said there were currently no plans to change the proposals.  

Built between 1964 and 1969 on the site of a former cabbage patch, Red Road was constructed to address the Glasgow’s growing housing needs and once provided accommodation for almost 5,000 people.

The estate is being cleared as part of site owner Glasgow Housing Association’s (GHA) plans to regenerate the area. One block was demolished two years ago and another in May last year.

The final block – which will not be razed to the ground as part of the ceremony currently houses around 300 asylum seekers.

Speaking about his father, who died in 1974, Bunton added: ‘My father was a brilliant architect. He put his life into that project. He would agree that this is a crass and absurd proposal.’

Previous story (AJ 4.4.14)

Shock at Commonwealth Games bid to demolish Glasgow towers for opening ceremony

Plans to blow up the remaining Red Road housing tower blocks in Glasgow for the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony have been slammed as a ‘bizarre’ idea

Five of the six remaining 30-storey towers are set to be blown–up in a global TV spectacle for what the Games’ has described as ‘a bold and dramatic statement of intent’.

The move has come under heavy fire with critics saying it sends out the wrong message to the rest of the Commonwealth as well as being insensitive to local people and for being a potentially dangerous demonstration.

Speaking on the BBC’s Newsnight, architect Alan Dunlop described the plans as ‘bananas’. He said: ‘It could have been a sketch from Hugh Bonneville’s Twenty Twelve - except it’s just so wacky that they would have probably dismissed it as being something so crazy they couldn’t put it forward. It is a crazy idea. The city council are taking on such a responsible. What if something went wrong?’

He added: ‘How does anyone in Delhi, Australia, or Canada, or any other place in the world know anyting about or care about what has gone on there? People who are living under the sheets of tarpaulins in Delhi will wonder why we are blowing up social housing. They will have no idea what the background is or what the architectural or social history is of the red road flats.

It just seems like a bizarre PR stunt

‘I don’t think it has been thought through properly. It just seems like a bizarre PR stunt which has the potential to go very wrong.’

Gordon Duffy, of Edinburgh-based Studio DuB agreed: ‘I think this is a most inappropriate way to herald the games and it seems a bit of a negative message to send out to the world.

‘I expect - and hope - there has been much research by the best people about what to do with these buildings, tearing them down does not prove that tall blocks of flats were a bad idea.’

Architecture critic Jonathan Meades has also slammed the plans: ‘Even the most half-witted elected representative knows that there is no surer means of earning populist brownie-points than by having a mortally ill child (leukemia does nicely) press the button to bring down a “Concrete Monstrosity”. 

‘Instead of committing yet another act of municipal vandalsim Glasgow’s appalling council (which has a lot of form in this area) might have asked itself why it didn’t maintain the structures it built. High rise works well in the private sector for the rich and even the modestly well off - their buildings are defended, serviced, cleaned. The public sector has shown over and again that it fosters neglect and all the problems that come with it.’

Defending the plans, leader of Glasgow City Council Gordon Matheson, said: ‘ It is a wonderful thing to do. It is a very brave and bold statement. It says Red Road flats were better housing at the time when they were built, but that is in the past and most people now want low rise living.

‘Red Road has an iconic place in Glasgow’s history, having been home to thousands of families and dominating the city’s skyline for decades. Their demolition will all but mark the end of high-rise living in the area and is symbolic of the changing face of Glasgow, not least in terms of our preparations for the Games.’

He added: ‘The message that will come across is that this is a bold redevelopment, it was happening in any event, and it encapsulates the regeneration that is ongoing within the city of Glasgow.’

Designed by Glasgow Corporation architect Sam Bunton, the estate is being cleared as part of site owner Glasgow Housing Association’s (GHA) plans to regenerate the area. One block was demolished two years ago and another in May last year. The final block – which will not be razed to the ground as part of the ceremony currently houses around 300 asylum seekers.

Built between 1964 and 1969 on the site of a former cabbage patch, Red Road was constructed to address the Glasgow’s growing housing needs and once provided accommodation for almost 5,000 people.

Residents living in the nearby housing estates will be evacuated from their homes whilst the demolition takes place on the 23 July.

Further comments

Alan Dunlop, Alan Dunlop Architects

‘Glasgow is a brilliant city for the potential of high rise. But they have to be done properly. They have to be done properly. They have to be built properly and maintained. You have to have the right architect for the job.’

Neil Baxter, Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland

‘In brief it’s a looney tunes notion that sends out a very negative message about Glasgow and Scotland. This is in the context of an international celebratory event which could be seen by a billion people. Talk about ‘shooting yourself in the foot’! 

‘Any idea that viewers will comprehend that it’s about regeneration is ill-founded.

‘Mind you this is from the council that brought you the extended farce of the George Square competition.

‘And just think how it will be received in New York!’

Kieran Gaffney, Konishi Gaffney Architects

‘There is no imagination applied to high-rise blocks in the UK. These are massive, reinforced structures with huge embodied energy. Blowing them up doesn’t make any sense; replacing them with suburban noddy boxes even less so. There are precedents for radical refurbishment, such as the Parisian La Tour Bois le Prêtre by Lacaton & Vassal and Frederic Druot which shows what is possible with flair. So far in Glasgow we have had two options, re-clad in beige and pink with a classical pediment or Vegas–style demolition. There is a petition at Change.org to demolish the flats with ‘dignity’ and the authors make a good point.’

Gordon Duffy, Studio DuB

‘This reminds me of the demolition of of some rather plain buildings in the Edinburgh suburbs captured  in ‘Bright New Future’ a video by Ewen Meldrum. I got him to present at Pecha Kucha Edinburgh  (I’ve been curating from the off since 2007) and we played this during the interval to stunned silence. I think the audience got the point that the buildings -like Red Road- held many life memories for people good and bad, it was not a celebration.’

Paul Stallan, Stallan-Brand

‘When I was sixteen someone shot at me from the Red Road flats or rather the bus I was travelling in smashing the rear window I was sat at. That said as giant works of perverse land art they have a certain quality but as monoliths to live in barbaric. It’s best they go.’

Previous story (AJ 7.5.13)

In pictures: 60s Glasgow tower bites the dust

Another high-rise tower on Glasgow’s Red Road housing estate was demolished last weekend

Designed by Glasgow Corporation architect Sam Bunton, the estate is being cleared as part of site owner Glasgow Housing Association’s (GHA) plans to regenerate the area.

Demolition of the infamous Red Road housing estate in North Glasgow began last June with the controlled explosion of a 25-storey block.

The latest tower demolition took place on Sunday (5 May). The structure was demolished through a controlled explosion in front of a crowd of hundreds.

The bottom 10-storeys of the flats remains intact due to its steel-frame structure which will be demolished in the coming months. The steel frame will be recycled and the rubble used for hardcore.

GHA’s director of development and regeneration, Alex McGuire, said: ‘The demolition of the second block of flats at Red Road is another step in the ongoing regeneration of Glasgow’.

Six remaining multi-storey buildings on the estate – all completed between 1964 and 1969 – are planned for demolition by 2017. Red Road was originally designed for 4,700 residents but houses fewer than 300 hundred people today.

Readers' comments (3)

  • Glasgow’s City Chambers is sometimes referred to as ‘Castle Greyskull’ by the people of the city. Do a little research into the history of the city and the various shady land deals and dodgy characters that go on to progress these grandiose projects – of which there have been many over the years.

    This all works to the detriment of people and communities.
    For instance, the area Red Road is in has been in constant transition since the 1950’s – Regeneration projects that never-quite get where they’re going. This is done entirely for political gain and the generation of fat contracts for the well-connected cronies behind what seems to be an endless cycle of ‘build it up, run it doon, build it up and run it doon again’ – with the ordinary folk of Glasgow caught up like rags in the spin cycle!

    Sam Bunton’s generation actually came fairly close to building something good and something stable and progressive...

    I recall as a toddler being hoisted by my Grandfather up to the window of our tenement flat in Bucksburn Road – not half-a-mile from the Red Road Flats. Our Tenement was one of the post-war ones. – Not damp or lacking a bathroom or any other facilities. “See the skyscraper son! Look!”. Papa had lived in America for a while as a youngster and was duly impressed by this latest sign of modernity in his post-war Glasgow. In fact the war was almost two-decades past. Like most parts of war-torn Britain, Glasgow was allegedly on a journey to becoming some sort of ideal.

    We moved in to these symbols of modernity circa 1971... I was nine or ten when we moved into our clean, neat, warm, well-insulated flat in the Red Road. – We weren’t cleared from any slum or any such like. This was a move forward. - I went to the library and learned about Le Corbusier and the brave new world I was now a part of.

    By the late 70’s the Caretakers that had stewarded the flats so well in the early days were eroded to just a few men for the whole scheme. And the city council had made a particular point of seeding the area with known criminals and anti-social types. – The flats you see had been too successful! - And with there being a lot of money in poverty, it suited them to drive the scheme down.

    I was to serve most of my apprenticeship (as a TV news cameraman) in London, but when I returned to Glasgow in the mid 80s it was back –by choice - to The Red Road.
    By this time the council had been ‘called out’ by tenants on their allocation policies. And events had conspired to open part of the place to a new social-housing experiment. One block was lease to the YMCA whilst another was taken completely out of mainstream housing stock...

    A brief interview with a building manager saw me set up with a three-bedroom plus box-room flat in a building with private parking, carpeted foyer, full concierge service and CCTV-controlled access piped right to my telly! The Box-room became a darkroom. One bedroom an office and another an edit suite. From there was created what is now one of the longest-established video production companies in Scotland.

    Yuppie towers it started to be called, and the waiting list grew...

    Again; that experiment worked too well; services and the building itself was downgraded and the disrepute of the place created and managed...

    There came a point of course where the mandarins had their way and the demolition of the scheme – to make room for the next project – became inevitable. Then it was time to write the history...

    When I first heard of Red Road’s proposed demolition I - as a legitimate film maker and former resident – proposed to make a film about its demise. I required NOTHING by way of public funding, only a little co-operation and access from GHA, Safedem and the other relevant city bodies.
    As I was at the time also a lecturer in one of the City’s colleges; I even offered to try and tie-in the project with the education of Glasgow’s latest generation of film makers...
    At every turn I was either blocked or ignored. Why? Well the story I would tell you and please do remember I actually lived through it – is actually quite a positive one of a good, decent community laid-low by council mismanagement. –The deliberate seeding of the area with known criminals and anti-social tenants. The deliberate down-grading of facilities and neglect of the buildings etc...

    And it would have closed with a question – why did this happen?

    Such has been the paranoia of the Council that the last time I attempted to film – As, I stress I am legally entitled to do – from the public street, GHA/Safedem goons had no less than three Police cars despatched to interfere with me going about my legitimate business! Three! Lights flashing and horns blaring!

    I’m not only a press-card holder, and a fully trained news-cameraman, but a former lecturer in TV production (ex-Stow College). One of my specialist subjects was media law; and I was very quickly able to send the Police on their way. – But we might reasonably ponder the level of paranoia, not to mention the willingness and ability to abuse hard-pressed public resource that drove such an action!
    This is where I say the element of ‘ethnic cleansing’ come in...

    Not only have the people of this area been physically displaced and this community abused for profit over a period of many decades; it’s to a carefully-chosen stadt-approved few that the victors are turning to have the history written...

    The Commonwealth Games themselves are no more than a ‘Panem et Circences’ for the aggrandisement and benefit of the ‘naked emperors’ that lord it over the people of Glasgow - The Games have cost many a Glasgow East-Ender their homes and businesses, with no adequate compensation. It’s a spectacle that most won’t be able to access. And likewise the facilities left will be beyond the reach of many – more ‘ethnic cleansing’ and fat contracts for the boys in other words!

    By creating the tie-in with another part of the city they have abused for their own ends the City fathers – spread across a raft of shill organisations and hidey-holes - are making the ultimate mockery, the ultimate disrespect and display of contempt for all those ordinary Glaswegians who lived and died in those buildings.

    All it would take is for whoever presses the plunger to be wearing a toga and a laurel wreath quite frankly!

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  • Excellent post.

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  • Matt, thank you for your in-depth take on all things Red Road. Fascinating.

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