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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 (4)

  • In many parts of the city Glasgow is now witnessing the fourth phase of demolition and rebuild in the space of 120 years. This city has a habit of mindless physical regeneration that occurs at the detriment to actual community regeneration. It knows no other tactic and strategy for improving the lives of the marginalised urban poor than to destroy the de-humanising box that they currently live in and place them in a brand new de-humanising box that is then positioned in a wider physical environment that dictates activity and behaviour in a manner that gradually deteriorates the human spirit. Places like Red Road don't decline because tall buildings are a bad place to live, it is because those places were made without the opportunity and invitation for the inhabitants to generate a culture through their own creativity and to meaningfully effect and develop their community in an organic and responsive manner. There is floods of new social housing going up all over Glasgow at the moment which will no doubt win their architects awards and bring smiles to the faces of their new inhabitants when they move into their new shiny, warm homes with a drive at the front and a garden at the back but I can't help but think that until we start asking questions about what we want people to do in these places, how a place can truly bring delight into the every day and how people can see and touch the opportunity to create their own place then we will find in another 30 years we might need to start all over again.

    This is obviously an extremely long winded response to what I think is a sick , ill considered, tactless, mindless show of misguided bravado. It says to the rest of the world that through neglect, mismanagement, dereliction of public duty, and a lack of care we fucked it up so badly and so profoundly that we have to destroy it and start all over again.

    While they are at it maybe it's worth popping some dynamite under the emirates, under the east end regeneration route, under the bland and monotonous office developments, and under the ugly, ill considered, poorly planned social housing that's popping up near the M74 and saving our selves another 30 years of barely managed decline until we do it all over again for the opening ceremony of the 2044 Glasgow Commonwealth Games.

    Done now x

    Unsuitable or offensive?

  • Everything about this debacle is wrong and sad. This act, if it allowed to go ahead, will become a symbol of the city of Glasgow. It depicts the city's own failure to house people properly as a means of entertainment. The reduction of all of the lives associated with Red Road is compressed into one sad, pointless, incomprehensible spectacle. And I can't help but note the Orwellian doublespeak in the press release (publicised before the residents were notified) which uses words like "Ambitious", "Proud" "Noble" "Respectful" to describe something that only the most eye-swivellingly stupid of people could conceive of as anything less than callous, sinister, cowardly and full of self-loathing.

    Unsuitable or offensive?

  • The Red Road's reputation for crime, disorder and deprivation was not quickly or naturally gained. Rather, it was the direct result of seeding the area with known anti-social types whilst simultaneously abdicating responsibility for proper stewardship and maintenance of the place; and it evolved over some two decades or more! - If there was social engineering at play, the physical buildings played little part in it. The scheme was deliberately mismanaged.

    I know, for I was there! - From the age of 10 I enjoyed a good upbringing in a warm, comfortable flat in the scheme. And later - again from one of the flats in the scheme - starting what is now one of the longest-established video production companies in Scotland.

    The decline of the Red Road past the point of no return has been carefully orchestrated. And it’s history written by those who brought it down to paint the pictures they require to justify their actions... Why for instance bring in a London-based Australian to write stories about the place? Or some guy from East Kilbride, now based in Blackpool, to take the ‘official’ photographs of its demise? Springburn is known for producing its own fair share of creatives! As is Glasgow generally!

    I personally can tell you that attempts to tell a positive story of life in the Red Road have been obstructed. And offer the opinion that what has gone on amounts to almost an ‘ethnic cleansing’ of the Red Road community and its true story. This, 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!

    The commonwealth 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! - The demolition of the Red Road does NOT symbolise anything of the regeneration of Glasgow; for it’s been ‘regenerating’ for all of the 51 years I’ve been on the planet and never-quite got there! – Rather it’s just the click of the ratchet as the next spin-cycle kicks in!

    And this is the ultimate mockery, the ultimate disrespect and display of contempt for all those ordinary Glaswegians who lived and died in those buildings. The ultimate display of ethnic cleansing. Sickening.

    Unsuitable or offensive?

  • Jonathan Meades refers to 'even the most half witted elected representative...'
    - the trouble is, this is Glasgow, and the electorate seems perfectly capable of electing a parrot if it's wearing the right colours.
    In the case of the current leadership, it seems to be following in the footsteps of the previous disgraced one.

    Unsuitable or offensive?

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