Glasgow's Red Road flats: Icon or eyesore?


On 23 July, five of the remaining six blocks of Red Road flats in Glasgow will be blown up live during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony. The BBC Scotland news website looks at the history of the controversial development.

What are the Red Road flats?

image copyrightGlasgow 2014
image captionThe Red Road flats were built between 1964 and 1969

The Red Road estate was a development of eight tower blocks in the north east of Glasgow between Balornock and Barmulloch.

The steel-framed high-rise flats were designed in 1962 by architect Sam Bunton for Glasgow Corporation (later Glasgow City Council) and built between 1964 and 1969.

Six of the eight blocks were traditional point-shaped and had 30 storeys. Two were broader slab-shaped and had 25 storeys.

The eight blocks were designed to accommodate about 4,700 people.

Why were the flats built?

image captionThe flats were intended to solve Glasgow's post war housing crisis

The flats were commissioned to help tackle a post-war housing crisis in Glasgow. Many of the city's homes at that time were rundown tenements.

In 1947 a delegation from Glasgow visited Marseilles to see new tower blocks designed by the French architect Le Corbusier.

Following that visit, a high-rise policy was introduced to Glasgow.

The Red Road site - a former cabbage patch - was among several sites chosen in Glasgow for the new high-rise homes.

Were they successful?

media captionBBC Newsnight's Catrin Nye looks at the life of the epic structures

Early residents welcomed the move from overcrowded and rundown tenement flats into the clean and modern tower blocks.

For some it was the first time they had an inside toilet.

In a BBC interview in 2012, one of the first residents, Jean McGeough, said the flats meant community and neighbours shared cleaning the hallways on a rota system.

"They were lovely the houses and it's breaking my heart to see them coming down," she said.

When did the decline set in?

image captionBy the 1970s the flats were becoming run down and synonymous with social problems

The original vision for the Red Road estate was more modest than the eight tower blocks that eventually went up and by the end of construction the development was something of a social experiment.

During the 1970s the estate gained a growing reputation for crime, antisocial behaviour, and alcohol and drug problems.

A fatal fire on the 23rd floor of one tower block in 1977 also saw some families refuse to return and brand the tower blocks a death trap.

By the 1980s, increased security measures, such as CCTV, were introduced to help tackle social problems. Two of the tower blocks were also transferred for use by students and the YMCA.

When did the end come for the Red Road flats?

media captionThe first block was demolished in June 2012

In 2003, the controversial decision was taken to transfer all of Glasgow's 81,000 council homes to the independent landlord, Glasgow Housing Association (GHA).

The not-for-profit body announced in 2005 that it would demolish one of the tallest blocks as part of a regeneration plan for the area. It was later decided that all of the flats would be demolished.

The first tower block was brought down in June 2012. The second demolition took place in May last year.

Five of the remaining flats will be brought down simultaneously during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony in Glasgow on 23 July. One tower block, which is currently used to house people seeking asylum in the UK, will remain.

Iconic or an eyesore?

image captionThe flats have inspired a book and a film

The prevailing view is that the social experiment of housing almost 5,000 people in the flats was ultimately a failure.

However, for some residents the tower blocks raised their living standards and are fondly remembered.

The sheer scale of the development, and its brooding presence on Glasgow's skyline for decades, has inevitably meant the flats have become an integral part of the city's cultural history.

This has found expression in books and films, notably the 2006 Bafta-winning Andrea Arnold film Red Road and the 2011 Alison Irvine novel, This Road is Red.

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