The Red Road experiment


On the 10th of June, a controlled explosion brought down the first of Glasgow’s Red Road housing estate. The demolition of this 25-storey epic structure marked the beginning of the end of Britain’s most controversial housing development. Another modernist experiment that turned from utopia into dystopia: the British Pruitt-Igoe.

Designed by architect Sam Bunton, the estate was completed in 1969 as part of extensive urban regeneration plans to fight the cities housing shortage. Initially, the plans were quite modest, but as the city embraced high-rise living as a quick and cheap solution, the project turned into something of an architectural experiment. The result: six grey towers (the highest of Europe at the time) and two 100m-wide sand-coloured slabs that give the impression of an almost impenetrable wall of concrete.

At first the blocks were seen as a symbol of new hope. And for most of is almost 5000 early residents – who came from overcrowded housing areas- this was true. However after some years, the flats lost their shine and became the embodiment of everything that’s wrong with high-rise living. When a fire hit the building and over 100 families were evacuated, most of them refused to return.

While the apartments kept on loosing popularity and two blocks were declared as unfit for living, the local authorities tried to move students and refugees (apparently the same) into the houses. When even they refused, the apartments remained empty and became dilapidated. It was time to accept that the whole thing was a failure an in 2005, the Glasgow Housing Association announced the demolition of the first tower as –yes again- an extensive regeneration of the area.

Although the real purpose of the buildings was not quite a success story, the experiment had some positive offspring. The appearance of the towers inspired many photographers, artists and was the scenery for an award winning film. Also it was subject of various books en is sung in some great local (pop)songs. Something its replacement will probably not surpass.