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"The Towers are a disgrace": Why demolition of an unloved housing scheme still proves controversial.

Part 2 Dissertation 2008
Claire Harper
Newcastle University Newcastle upon Tyne UK
Rumours had circulated for several years prior to the eventual announcement of plans to demolish the Red Road flats in April 2005. The revelation put an end to the rumours, but initiated a number of ‘claims’ as to what was signified by the demolition of these iconic towers.

“Glasgow’s skyline is changing and these blocks will not be missed” read one local newspaper report. “End of the road for slum flats” declared another.

These claims are symptomatic of what has revealed itself to be a cloaked and indecipherable subject of study. By considering the statements heralded by different parties involved in the regeneration process, demolition is unravelled to reveal how chosen realities are appropriated and others concealed in the construction of a demolition myth. Taking from Barthes Mythologies, the paper poses demolition as a signifier with a broader socio-economic, political and architectural meaning.

Perhaps more than any other UK city, Glasgow’s horizon is defined by the symbolic tower blocks of this era. This study captures the legacy of these towers as it is framed by their proposed demolition.
It asks the question; what is signified by the destruction of these iconic structures? Described as “internationally famous symbol[s] of 1960’s housing design” (GHA, 2005), they have also become synonymous with images of urban degradation and poverty. The proposal to demolish more than half of the city’s tower blocks will not only transform the horizon of the Clyde bank, but redefine perceptions of the socio-economic, cultural and political position of the city.

Ultimately, demolition is posed as a symptom of the metabolism of a housing supply system. However, in uncovering the socio-technical relations that predicate demolition much is also revealed about the process by which the tenants of the Red Road flats are housed and de-housed. It is not within the scope of this study to speculate as to whether this process with benefit those residents whose daily landscape will be unrecognisably transformed, only to consider what is demonstrated about the symbolic importance of architecture through the cycle of deconstruction and re-construction within which demolition is positioned.

Claire Harper

This study approaches the controversy surrounding the 1960s Red Road Housing Scheme, Glasgow, from an interesting and unusual angle, revealing the complexities and contradictions imbedded in the political process related to their proposed demolition. It is very well written and offers a well-constructed, well-sourced argument with good insights - demonstrating scholarship of a high level. A well-judged, sophisticated piece of work on a topical issue.

Graham Tipple
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