John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
The '60s-era Red Road Flats complex was once seen as the solution to urban overcrowding in Scotland; now it's turning to rubble.
The Red Road Flats complex was once seen as the solution to urban overcrowding in Glasgow, Scotland. On Sunday, part of it became rubble.
The first of the eight buildings in the Flats development underwent a controlled demolition that left all but its base in flinders. Machines will remove what's left of it in the months to come. The remaining condemned properties – which at the time of their construction in the late '60s were the tallest apartment buildings in Europe – will suffer similar implosions until nothing remains standing in 2017.
The origins of this unusual project dates to the end of WWII with the publication of the Bruce Report, urban planner Robert Bruce's vision for the future of Glasgow. The report called for the widespread destruction of the city's slummed-up tenement housing, and the relocation of its residents to lower-density structures on the outskirts of town. That began happening in the 1950s, with the city pursuing a number of Corbusian initiatives to heighten the standard of living for all Glaswegians.
Thus the Flats were born. Composed of a few "points," or apartment towers, and "slabs," or long, squat blocks that loomed 25 stories tall, the Flats initially did quite well at providing comfortable housing to roughly 5,000 people. But as Glasgow sank into a depression in the 1970s, the distinguishing features of the development became crime and blight. Faced with a horde of Buckfast-swilling neds, the government in the '80s declared two of the buildings unfit to live in.
Further woe bubbled forth when the city realized the Flats were fatly padded with asbestos, a consequence of their steel skeletons needing fire-proof coats. Glasgow's officials neatly handled this problem by handing over the Flats to a private company in 2003. That company promised to make repairs and bring the project up to shape for its now-ragtag population of political-asylum seekers and refugees. Of course that didn't happen, with repairs deemed too expensive for what the residents were paying in rent, and the Flats were scheduled for demolition.
But that wasn't the end of the drama. In 2010, a family that had been ordered to vacate their apartment did so by jumping off their 15th-floor balcony. All three were found dead in the courtyard. And last year, a giant hunk of asbestos fell off one building and plunged into an occupied children's center. No kids were hurt in that escapade. On the more positive side, the Flats got a cinematic showcase in the 2006 Bafta-winning film, Red Road, which "tells the story of a CCTV security operator who observes through her monitors a man from her past."
Safedem carried out Sunday's takedown with more than 600 pounds of explosives and no apparent hitch. (Maybe that's why the company sweeps it in the World Demolition Awards.) Here are a couple more views, the last one being a little WTF. From above:
From, uh, in front of a bunch of hippies? I dunno:
And here's a view nobody will see anymore, from inside the building with artist and documentarian Mitch Miller.