One Lesson from Glasgow’s Red Road Flats

One Lesson from Glasgow’s Red Road Flats

Glasgow’s Red Road Estate is a high-rise housing estate that could have been typical for many social housing schemes in Europe in the 1960’s, except that this development is rather huge. It comprises of two 28-storey slabs and six 31-storey tower blocks which taken together were designed for a population of 4,700 people. Perhaps because of its size, the time from being a utopia to turning into a dystopia spans only twenty years. Now 45 years on, one slab (2012) and the one tower block (2013) that looked like an outsider anyway, have been demolished.

With only one tower still being occupied, the original plan was to simultaneously blow up five of the remaining towers “Las Vegas-style” as part of the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Where it gets interesting is when they decided against it on the back of criticism calling for the five flats, still the tallest buildings in Glasgow, to be “demolished with dignity, not for entertainment”.

You might expect that most people would be happy to see these buildings off, but next to being a failure one can also regard the project as a hapless giant that cannot help himself. Knowing that the buildings eventually have to go, the Glaswegian do the only thing they can (and should) do, which is to document it. Bidding a proper farewell to failures is off course the lesson of the day here.

First up, photography. Here is three examples. First up is a series (click ‘red road’) by George Logan. These were taken with all eight towers still standing.

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Here is a series by Simon Butterworth, which has got some great images with the remaining six towers wrapped in demolition cloth.

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Chris Leslie recently posted a series in Stampsy called The Never Ending Red Road. While at it you should check out some of his other work as well.

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The second way to document a project is by stories, which is what writer Alison Irvine did. For the book This Road is Red, Irvine imagines the buildings through many chronically ordered stories spanning 50 years, based on real stories from residents and other involved.

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The Red Road flats have also featured as the scene for an art house movie called Red Road, which tells the story of a CCTV operator who works in one of the buildings. The movie won the Jury Prize at Cannes in 2006.

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Flat owner Glasgow Housing Association teamed up with and Glasgow Life, a local non for profit focussing on culture, sport and learning to create the Web site redroadflats.org.uk for the purpose to keep collection going of photographs, stories and video’s.

Now that the estate has become a part of culture, it is tempting to promote the preservation of these buildings. But for these outings to keep their imaginative value it might be better if they weren’t around anymore so the idea as captured by the documentation of the estate is not blurred by reality of it. Departure is planned for 2015 so if you want to go and have a look for yourself, now would be a good time to do so.

top image credit: <p&p> at Flickr

update March 18: below is a wee video called ‘Red Road Moving’ documenting two residents living, and moving out of the Red Road Flats in Glasgow.

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