Book Review: Disappearing Glasgow: Documenting the End Of Life of the Tower Block

Book Review: Disappearing Glasgow: Documenting the End Of Life of the Tower Block

When I went up the observation tower at the Glasgow Science Centre in the autumn of 2015, the liftboy pointed to some part of the view to the east, informing me that until last week, that’s where the Red Road Towers used to be, followed by a brief moment of silence. What struck me most was that he apparently presumed that I, clearly from out of town, knew what the Red Road Flats were (I do). Later that day when I went to see the demolition site, passersby greeted me with a “quite a sight, no!” and “did you bring your broom?” It seemed like barely a week after the remaining Red Road Flats had been blown up, melancholy had already kicked in. In fact, it got to me as well as I collected, as a souvenir, a little piece of the red cloth that had been used to wrap the towers to protect against flying debris.

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Big things have that effect on people I guess, and the way in which Glasgow shaped public housing (or the other away around) indeed was a big thing. For the many problems these blocks helped to solve, they also created many problems, which were magnified by the size of these developments. However, this is not the place to discuss the rise and fall of the Glasgow towerblock. The fact is that, along with the ideals and ideas that helped to shape them, many are now gone. Actually, I don’t know any city in the world which lost its entire top ten of tallest buildings. When that happens, you know something has gone missing.

Previously we already reported on the cult status of building blocks like the Red Road ones, resulting in photo series, books, and even movies. Chris Leslie, a Glasgow-based artist and photographer, took his first tower block image in 2007 and has been doing so ever since. With over thirty percent of Glasgow’s tower blocks gone, including the most prominent ones, now is good time to present the documented material.

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The result is an A4-sized, landscape orientated book with over a hundred photographs, alternated by gripping essays, which together document the final chapters of ‘a post-war architectural experiment’. On the surface, the book is mostly about urbex and semtex, so if you are fascinated by these topics you’re going to love this book. The photographs are absolutely stunning, perfectly capturing the spooky, eerie atmosphere of buildings which have been left to time. The story which Leslie tells through his photo series involves the smallest detail, such as a lost lottery ticket or an old thermostat on the wall, but also panoramas of the Glasgow cityscape, being once somebody’s view. Occasionally people are part of the image, representing the many former and current residents which Leslie has interviewed in the process.

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When taking in the images and reading the essays, you realize that Disappearing Glasgow is about much more than just blowing up dilapidated buildings. It takes a lot of love for a city to want to record a not so glorious chapter, but it is obvious that Leslie does care a lot. Nowhere the story becomes judgemental or colored. As such, the book is a tribute to an era which is now is becoming history, and most likely will give future generations a fair and respected view of this part of Glasgow’s urban past, as there was something about them. Even though the buildings are portrayed at the end of their lives, you get an understanding of the captivating image and idealistic ideas these buildings once represented.

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Two thumbs up for this book!

Disappearing Glasgow
A Photographic Journey
photographer: Chris Leslie
editor: Johnny Rodger
publisher: Freight Books
book website: disappearing-glasgow.com
2016 | hardcover | 192 pages | ISBN-13: 978-1911332077

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