Experts are creating a ‘Domesday Book’ of post-war reconstruction, documenting every multistorey housing project ever completed in Britain
The digital archive, entitled Tower Blocks - Our Blocks!, will be put together by social and architectural historians from Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) and will feature 3,500 publicly accessible photographs of the UK’s high-rise boom.
According to the authors the project hopes to restore the crumbling image of tower block life in the UK ‘at a time when post-1945 high-rise housing is continuously under threat threat across the country’.
The project is to receive £52,900 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and will be carried out over the next two years. The funding will go towards digitising 3,500 images taken in the 1980s - including those buildings demolished during the last 30 years ago - making them fully searchable in a digital archive.
The grant will also support local outreach initiatives which encourage residents of high-rise housing to tell their stories to preserve the community history of the blocks.
Colin McLean, head of the HLF in Scotland, said: ‘Without archives, vast segments of our nation’s history would be missing.
It’s important to capture this heritage
‘As the high-rise towers that have dominated many towns’ and cities’ skylines begin to disappear, it is important for us to capture this heritage and give voice to the experiences of those who live in these flats and communities.
‘The Heritage Lottery Fund is delighted to be able to help make this happen’.
Glasgow’s iconic Red Road flats are among the images in the archive. In 2014, the city’s leaders faced heavy criticism when they planned to feature the spectacle of demolition as part of the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony, by demolishing five of the six remaining blocks on live television.
The plans were eventually scrapped after widespread outrage. The 1960s blocks will be demolished, out of the spotlight, later this year. Built between 1964 and 1969 to house 4,700 people, the eight original flats were once the tallest in Europe.
London’s Thamesmead estate, conceived as ‘a town of the 21st century’ in the 1960s will be another of the buildings archived. Designed by GLC division architect Robert Rigg, the vision for Thamesmead was to create a community for around 60,000 people.
Featured in Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 dystopian film A Clockwork Orange, the estate will be regenerated with £225 million committed by Peabody last year.
Manchester’s Hulme Crescent - demolished in 1994 - and Birmingham’s still-standing Chelmsley Wood will also be embodied in the archive.
Professor Miles Glendinning, head of the Scottish Centre for Conservation Studies at ECA, said: ‘We hope this project will help contribute to the ongoing shift in public attitudes towards the post-war Modernist housing heritage, which is fast turning from an object of dislike and alienation into a force for potential community empowerment’.
He continued: ‘Council tower blocks were once the most prominent and dramatic legacy of the post-1945 reconstruction drive, but mass demolitions over the past 35 years, still continuing today, have depleted this vast heritage, leaving it obscured or incomprehensible to the public at a time when popular interest in post-war Modernist heritage is sharply increasing’.
Eddy Rhead of the Manchester Modernist Society told the AJ: ‘Miles Glendinning has led the way for a long time in this field. His Tower Block is a magnum opus. It’s great that academia and the HLF continues to investigate post-war architecture further, and, in this case, not the high status, sexy stuff but the type of buildings the public interact with on a daily basis.
‘We need to be realistic and admit that many high-rise tower blocks have failed on a social level but its important to document this hugely important part of our post-war architectural landscape, and this project will provide an essential resource for future historians’.
Tower Blocks - Our Blocks! is due to be completed by 2017.