Mark Smith: Why is Glasgow so wrong about its skyscrapers?

Some wouldn’t use the word “beautiful”, but I would. Below me is a long gray expanse of concrete. Behind is the gloom of the moors. And in front of you is one of my favorite views of my favorite city. Here it is: house, hill and skyscrapers, and as usual it is the skyscrapers that attract my attention. All cities are expanding, but the biggest cities are moving upwards.

I realize, before you point it out, I risk romanticizing that great view of Glasgow you get from the M77. I also realize that it’s especially dangerous to romanticize high-rise buildings when you’ve never lived there. But as Glasgow’s skyline has changed in recent years – for good and for bad – I’ve often been struck by the fact that we don’t necessarily adopt our attitude to skyscrapers. sky.

Take the Wyndford Apartments at Maryhill for example. You may have read that the housing association that owns the apartments wants to demolish them and that they informed residents last year that the buildings were slated for demolition. You may also have read last week that a leading architect said: wait a minute, are we doing the right thing here? This raises some interesting questions and the distinct possibility that we keep making the same mistakes.

The logic of the association seems to be the same as that which led to the demolition of slums in the 1960s followed 40 years later by the demolition of the buildings which replaced them. The apartments are in poor condition, they say. Many locals don’t like them. And we could do things better by building new buildings (before tearing them down too in 40 years, presumably).

In some ways, I understand where Glasgow Housing Association is coming from. A lot of people don’t want to live in skyscrapers. The promise of 300 new energy-efficient homes is also quite an easy sell. And for a long time the predominant theory with buildings like this was to deploy gelignite and detonators. This is how much urban planning, particularly in Glasgow, has been carried out over the past decades.

But the problems are obvious, I would have thought. First of all, are the inhabitants really involved? There was a consultation with them, but it seemed to be along the lines of a lot of such consultations, which is, ‘here’s what’s going to happen, how do you agree? It’s also clear that there are plenty of residents who enjoy living in Wyndford apartments, even though they would like to see them upgraded and better maintained.

Second, has the possibility of keeping the apartments and improving them been properly considered? I have just returned from a few days in Liverpool and whilst in the Toxteth area of ​​the city I had the opportunity to speak to some people about the skyscraper on the edge of Sefton Park. You know, of course, the echoes of the word Toxteth: it’s where the riots happened in the 80s and there was a time when the skyscraper near the park was only a place to live if you wanted easy access to drugs, crime and trouble. To that extent, he lived up to all the clichés.

But now it’s different. There are always hardships in and around Toxteth – sometimes extreme hardships. But the neighborhood has also become much more mixed. There was regeneration and as part of that – instead of tearing it down – the skyscraper was renovated and became a transformed and affordable place to live. The apartments tower over the trees at the edge of the park and I love that.

Of course, there are potential pitfalls. For starters, Toxteth started popping up in those boring Sunday magazine articles about where to live. Liverpudlian residents I spoke to also said the familiar effect had already begun: people with speckled quinoa beards were moving in, people who had lived there all their lives were being forced to move out. They call it gentrification, but really it’s just the middle pushing the bottom.

Similar risks exist at Maryhill, whichever way you go about it. Tear down the Wyndford apartments and you get what one of the residents, a Buddhist monk called Greum, says is (to put it generously) gentrification or (to put it realistically) social cleansing. Keep the apartments on the other hand and do them and something similar could happen if, like Liverpool, people find an affordable way to live in a really nice area (the Wyndford apartments are right on the river Kelvin in the edge of the West End remember).

It’s also odd that the housing association proclaims the energy-efficient homes that would replace Wyndford apartments while ignoring the environmental destruction and waste that would occur if demolished. Surely it is better to improve and modernize what exists than to reduce everything to rubble and dust and start all over again?

This was one of the points architect Alan Dunlop made last week when he launched a defense of Wyndford Apartments and it’s a pretty compelling argument. Renovation, he said, would be the most climate-friendly option for a city that hosted the Cop26 convention, but he also pointed out that Glasgow has already knocked down nearly half of its towers and that would be maybe now is a good time to change your attitude.

Personally, I thought the attitude started to change with the Red Road apartments debacle in 2014. Remember that? Some numpty with a PR qualification thought it would be a good idea to blow up one of the blocks as part of the Commonwealth Games celebrations. It was then pointed out that the flats had been homes of people and that other blocks were still inhabited and that blowing up what had been a community for a PR wheeze was a terrible and thoughtless idea, which was the case and fortunately the idea was abandoned.

However, I fear some of the same attitudes persist on Wyndford: building trash, ka-boom, problem solved. Not only is this simplistic, but it misses the other option, the one that says the best communities are those that are made up of different types of buildings and different types of people. So try this next time you’re driving in Glasgow on the M77: try looking at the houses, hills and skyscrapers and ask yourself: this is all part of the city – how can we make this works better?

Our columns are a platform for writers to voice their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald.

Comments are closed.