this thread is good coz it will create discussion. There is already a West Midlands Tower Block thread, but that is frequented mainly by the hard core few who appreciate the brutal impression these horrors have on our urban landscape. I'm one of those few and personally I love them....it's difficult to describe why but a real city in my eyes has to have it's urban blandness as well glittering CBD and its landscaped suburbs....I've said enough, discuss!
well for a bloke like myself who is studying modernism and its effects on birmingham, i'd like to think i have a fair idea of why but how to explain it is another thing.
pretty much, the 1950-1960's saw huge slum clearance after the war meaning a new form of housing was needed and fast. also after the war there was a nationwide feel of moving into the future and forgetting the past, esp after 2 of the largest wars in the world!
in the end, the concrete tower block seemed the way forward. they alloud shit loads of people to live in a tidy area and woudl also allow huge grass parks to be built around them. it seemed a win-win situation. ....same amount of people taking up the same about of space but this way, huge new grassy areas and parks are able to eb built.
however, we all no how it ended and unfortunately when these were being built, they werent to know how they'd end..... a simple case of trying to solve 1,000 problems with 1 solution
Not really. London has demolished about 100 of them, but it still has several hundred still standing.
As well as the desperate need for housing, some thought these 'streets in the sky' were the way forward socially, but of course that just didn't work. People felt isolated so high up, they couldn't lean over the garden fence for a chat. Kids had to play in stairwells or in front of the buildings. Old people were/are scared to leave their flats. Their build quality was basically pure crap.
Many were badly maintained and became crime ridden, started to fall to pieces etc
The reasons they were built aren't clear cut. They are often justified on grounds of a housing shortage and in London's blitzed east end and elsewhere that's understandable. The location of towers elsewhere in the country often defied logic however, in many case's whole communities/districts were cleared to make way for them resulting in a net loss of homes, the claim that they were building up density was a lie.
Just as important was the political climate at the time, where councils were keen to win votes for homes. Everything was state controlled. There was also (apparently) a total disregard for victorian/edwardian architecture which was allegedly too excessive, this all stemmed from the modernist movement which afflicted the age like some form of mania.
There was no system of quality control, people who moved in weren't given any choice, the developers weren't subject to any meaningful planning regulations (they were the planners). land ownership wasn't an issue for them either, they could just compulsorily purchase that which they wished. You had a complex system of government subsidy running as well, the way it was worked the more "units" you constructed the greater the volume of state cash you could accrue, it skewed the construction industry such that it wasn't economical to build anything other than large flimsy blocks. The tower blocks were cripplingly expensive to build despite the cost cutting, this was only offset by massive subsidy, councils were repaying the loans decades later. Also there was a constant push to build bigger, cheaper, faster, again because they weren't supplying an actual market (as such), they got away with it in the extreme short term, it was future generations who footed the bill.
Yes can you believe the central government actually subsidised every floor built above a certain level! House building was a huge government and election issue at the time due to the many decades of unfulfilled promises to sort out the poor quality housing stock that many found themselves living in and the reduced levels resulting from destruction during the war. The politcial will and rush to built and the enticement of subsidies meant that quality, caution and the abilitiy to learn from mistakes was thrown out of the window.
It just goes to show the horrors that can happen when everything conspires to act in one direction with no one to pull the brakes or just standback to look at what was happening (luckily or rather unluckily Ronan point managed to do that). Ronan point along with the growing voice of heritage groups and residents complaining at the heavy handed councils eager to demolish and build high saw to the ebandonment of tower block construction.
The reason why they failed is that everyone believed that somehow a new building would cure social ills. In fact it had the reverse effect, uprooting long standing communities destroyed the fabric that held them together so people often found themselves physically and socially isolated. Also the maintenance of estates was cutback (a disasterous mistake for some short-term penny pinching) during the council cutbacks of the 70s and 80s resulting in viscous cycle of anti-social behaviour and desperation that pretty much finished off the dream.
The lessons learned are that communities must be mixed, integrated into the exisiting urban fabric and must be well connected. Unfortunately we seem to be making the same mistakes but from the other end of the scale. Souless, isolated low density sprawling housing developments miles from the traditional urban centres and high rise 1 or 2 bedroom apartments for the very well off often isolated as 'gated' developments
anyway to compare what was built by the councils to what the modernist movement envisaged is like comparing chalk and cheese. The modernist movement saw their buildings as freeing people from the past horrors of over crowded, polluted slums. Their buildings were generous in size, light with good ventilation and were socially aware, all the units had the same facilities and all had just as much space as the other and equal access to light. They were built for the rich and poor alike. The idea of building dense was that everyone could have access to more greenery, an urban garden, and to create a social unit. Building dense with this in mind did not necessarily mean building towers however. The proportion of residential units to green space was generous; outdoor space was for nature and not a car park or just left over ground, it was integral to the buildings design. I defy anyone to look at the space around a typical council block and think that it is in some way a good trade off. You will see car parks, service bays, fenced off grass that no one has direct access to apart from people walking their dogs and seemingly pointless left over bits of grass.
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