The end of the Red Road Flats, Glasgow

With recent events and the preparation for demolition bringing the attention of journalists and other eyes to focus on the Red Road Flats in Glasgow, the current situation and future of this area is both sensitive and uncertain. In an attempt to put expectations and stereotypes to one side, I was curious as to what extent the myth of the place rings true with reality here.

The following text and images are edited from a commission for Urban Realm Magazine , to document the last days of this area, and the article was published in issue 2 of the magazine in 2010. Urban Realm Magazine – Spring 2010 – RedRoad Demolition

Driving towards Red Road a feeling of trepidation was heightened as I approached the towers. The estates troubled reputation for antisocial crime and the quick decline in the quality of the environment it has provided for many of its residents added to my feeling of unease. A familiar presence to the northern skyline as one enters or leaves the city, was suddenly now creating new perspectives, as I got close. On arrival a cost cutter store nestled beside a few other dilapidated and boarded up shops at the heart of the estate. It’s perhaps now, with nowhere else to go, that the sheer scale of this place within the landscape is realised, looming above the predominantly suburban style surroundings.

I was here at short notice, my camera with me to capture what I could of the condition and current state of this area. Soon after arriving another photographer pulled up and quickly fired off some shots before retreating out of here. Was he thinking what I was thinking? Resigned to its approaching demise, with the clearance of flats and dismantling of two blocks underway, the physical scars and signs of neglect appears to overshadow the remaining fabric and built environment that residents interact with.

The demolition of buildings integral to a community, along with the associated relocation of residents and regeneration of neighborhoods has echoes across Scotland and the UK, both historically and in the present wave of clearances, which form part of Glasgow City Council’s regeneration programme and future housing provision. High Rise living may be coming to an end in Glasgow, but new tensions are created, in expectation of individual’s uncertain future and ongoing personal journeys. This is further highlighted with many residents often seeking asylum, becoming used to constant displacement and relocation.

There are parallels here with the ideals of the place as a whole. As if heralding a brave new world the area was declared to bring all the amenities of modern life to the area of Springburn and beyond. Constructed between 1964 & 1969 it was hoped that high rise living with lock ups, garages, and landscaping would provide a new alternative – a solution to the urgent housing needs of the time.

Staring into the sparse walls of the towers, a mesmerising grid of windows signifies the many stories and lives, which have been contained behind these facades. Perhaps not typical but symbolising the well documented failure and isolation of many of these areas “just knock me down with the building  – Don’t bother shifting me” is a harsh reaction by one resident. An array of boarded up windows, now a poignant demonstration that the end of an era has been reached for Red Road. The harsh impact of such an environment may be to blame for draining the identity out of communities and their sense of belonging, but many people here have shown strength and optimism for their future.

An ominous calm pervades the area whilst I was here; – courteous smiles, impeccable politeness and the sense of a community getting on with things manages to override the real crisis many residents have found themselves in. One resident told me he quite liked the towers, referring to their magnificence amongst the wider landscape, – “they look better than a lot of the stuff nearby” hinting that perhaps leaving nature to take its course might be a more suitable and fitting end.

Of course personal circumstances can strengthen or isolate any attachment to an area and good quality, imaginative design can help to relieve pressure on a community like this. With the cost of continued repair and upkeep becoming unmanageable, and seeking a brighter future for the citizens of Red Road, the preparation for demolition has now commenced, and is due for completion by 2016/17. The future for the site has yet to be decided by Glasgow City Council, and the partnerships overseeing regeneration will need to decide how to respond to the legacy that these 9 towers will leave on Springburn and its wider location.

These buildings create a powerful sight on this city’s horizon; their demolition will further scar the landscape and leave a presence in the foundation marks and open spaces left behind. To me it would seem strange to concrete over and start again – filling in the gap with a sea of houses that seamlessly blend into the immediate and regenerated surroundings. As if Ground Zero, a sensitive response should be investigated that acknowledges the areas past and impact within Glasgow. Over the last 5 decades many different groups of tenants have come and gone and the future success of the area may well depend on establishing exactly who any future regeneration is for. How the needs of these users can best be provided for through design, infrastructure, cultural resources and the opportunities open to the community will be as bigger challenge as ever, especially to sustain a level of interest and development once all the hype has settled.

‘Red Road, Glasgow. Their final demise has begun.
Build me up, just to knock me down. We‘ve been standing in the cold for decades now.
You promised us shelter, a new life, happiness. Where did it all go wrong?
Lets start again, roll out the demolition. We’ll do it right this time. We’ll make it work.’

Article Feature Urban Realm

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