The Red Road Flats

While working with the Scottish Refugee Council there was a short time when I made a weekly pilgrimage to the Red Road Flats. It felt like I took a bus to nowhere and then it kept on going and I always remember it feeling really lonely getting off the bus on Petershill Drive to take the elevator to the 29th floor of this unloved Modernist/ Brutalist building with chicken wire over the balcony so you couldn't throw yourself off. This was in fact needed as, tragically, on 7 March 2010, the Serykh family, three asylum seekers, jumped to their death from one of the towers in an act of desperate sadness.

The elevator took a lifetime to ascend but the company was always good. The entire block had been taken on by the YMCA and was being used to house people who were waiting for a determination to be made on their claim for asylum in the United Kingdom. So on any given day you would be sharing the elevator rise with Iraqis, Kurds, Eritreans, Chinese or Congolese…basically depending on what part of the world was kicking off at that particular moment in time. We ran a drop in clinic. People would come in and ask about issues they were facing with their legal advice, accommodation, contacting family and a myriad of other things. While the place was unloved and all of the concrete was cracked it felt like it had a certain vibrancy and I actually came to enjoy my visits. It has recently been demolished as part of a redevelopment plan. It is being placed with smaller, brighter more moely buildings. I took a drive around recently and was amazed it is beautiful to see what they have done and still some of the best views in Glasgow of Glasgow. Still the building hanging half demolished as if someone has wiped the towel away and exposed the lives that were lived in each of the rooms. Little pieces of individuality etched onto the uniform issue, uniform size, uniform everything, rooms. This short video contains some shots of the building which is in a sate of partial dilapidation as the demolition was not entirely successful.

This section heavily cites other sources for full list of references see end

After the publication of the Bruce Report in 1946, Glasgow Corporation identified Comprehensive Development Areas (CDAs), which were largely inner-urban districts (such as the Gorbals, Anderston and Townhead), with a high proportion of overcrowded slum housing. These areas would see the mass demolition of overcrowded and insanitary tenement slum housing, and their replacement with lower density housing schemes to create space for modern developments. The dispersed population would be relocated to new estates built on green belt land on the outer periphery of the city’s metropolitan area, with others moved out to the New Towns of Cumbernauld and East Kilbride. These initiatives began to be implemented in the late 1950s. Barlornock was a green belt area that had undergone little development before the construction of the Red Road estate. The original plan for Red Road was far more modest than the eventual high-rise scheme — it called for a complex of maisonettes no taller than 4 storeys…more like what we see today. What emerged was Glasgow Corporation architect Sam Bunton’s scheme to house a population of 4,700 people in 28- and 31-storey tower blocks which were at the time the highest in Europe.

By the 1970s the estate had gained a reputation for anti-social crime, ranging from disaffected youths throwing objects from the roofs and frequent burglaries. Such problems were less severe than those evident in parts of the city such as the nearby low-rise Blackhill estate, long dominated by ruthless crime gangs. But they were able to strike a nerve in the perceptions of non-residents, owing partly to the “looming” ambience of the blocks which in some ways might be called emblematic. The slab blocks, for example, are not only 25 storeys high but also almost 100 metres wide. A major turning point came in August 1977, when a fire started by vandals in an empty flat on the 23rd floor of 10 Red Road Court, caused serious structural damage to the building, resulting in the death of a 12-year-old boy and a large number of tenants being evacuated. Many refused to return to their ruined homes, since the fire had brought to the fore the issues surrounding the asbestos lining used in the buildings, and prompted the outer refurbishment of the towers. As a mark of respect — the flat on Floor 23 of 10 Red Road Court was never let out again for rent, and instead was refurbished as a drop-in “community flat” with social amenities for the whole estate (Eiki onlin).

By the time the 1980s had dawned, it had become clear that the optimism that had surrounded the policy of high rise housing had waned in less than two decades, and despite attempts to regenerate the estate, drug dealing, muggings and other serious crime continued, and the towers — owing to their symbolic status as Glasgow’s tallest buildings — also became a popular spot for suicides. Along with the equally controversial and derided Hutchesontown C estate in the Gorbals, Red Road became increasingly looked upon as a monument to the errors of Glasgow’s ambitious post-war housing renewal policy (for full references and citation click here).

Because of the volume of void housing stock Glasgow had been receptive to becoming a dispersal area for asylum seekers who awaited a determination in their claim fr Refugee status in the United Kingdom. Large areas of unloved housing, like the Red Road, flats soon started to provide temporary sanctuary for asylum seekers in Glasgow. Now that time too has passed and it feels like Glasgow is attempting to expunge all traces of Modernist and Brutalist architecture. The ideas of these forms are noble and it is years of neglect, lack of investment, and poor management which have given them a bad name. So they are raised to the ground and we start again. We hope it will be different this time round.

Now the area has truly come full circle. It is being recreated in the image of the original vision of higher density smaller maisonettes no taller than 4 storey high and having recently visited they have done a fantastic job and anyone would be happy to call one of these new flats a home. The programme of works is managed by Glasgow Housing Association.

References

  • Smith, Claire (20 February 2010). “Exhibition shows rise and fall of Glasgow’s Red Road tower blocks”. The Scotsman. Retrieved 20 February 2010.
  • Glendinning, Miles (1994). Tower Block. Yale University Press. p. 428. ISBN 0300054440.
  • Bunton, Samuel (9 February 1963). “Letter to Edtor”. Glasgow Herald.
  • Jacobs, J.M.; Cairns, S. and Strebel, I. ‘‘A tall storey…but, a fact just the same’: The Red Road highrise as a black box.’, 2006, University of Edinburgh School of Geosciences
  • Bunton, S; Associates (October 1966). “Balornock Glasgow Red Road Development”. International Asbestos Cement Review 44 (1): 20–25.
    Williamson, Elizabeth, et al. The Buildings of Scotland: Glasgow, Penguin Books 1990, p. 477
  • “Asbestos Removal”. Red Road Demolition.
  • Glendinning, Miles. “Feature — Red Road”. Scottish Architecture.com. Retrieved 8 April 2008.
  • “Glasgow Architecture, May 2008”. Glasgowarchitecture.co.uk.
    McLean, Pauline (28 December 2009). “Mapping the end of the Red Road flats”. BBC News.
  • Bremner, Charles. “The Rise and Fall of Glasgow’s Red Road”. The Sunday Times (London). Retrieved 24 October 2011.
  • Red Road Flats: Past, Present and Future”. www.redroadflats.org.uk. Retrieved 10 June 2015.
  • Irvine, Alison (2012). This Road Is Red. Luath Press Ltd. p. 310. ISBN 1–906817–81–2.
Dilapidated Grandeur

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The beautiful www.dilapidatedgrandeur.com, urban decay and renewal of the city I love.

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