One of the totemic landmarks of Glasgow, the towering cement blocks of the Red Road Flats, have been ear-marked for entertainment, as the organizers of the Commonwealth Games plan to blow them sky-high. The demolition will feature as part of the opening ceremony when the Commonwealth Games commence in July.
Many are finding it in poor taste that the flats where generations lived and raised their families would be blasted apart to a worldwide audience in the guise of a gaudy firework display with no sparks but a whole lot of rubble.
Head of the Commonwealth Games, David Grevemberg has been responding today to a petition signed by over 15,000 people who want to see a stop to the Red Road razing.
Grevemberg insists that it is a unique chance to “commemorate an important part of Glasgow’s social history.” Those who occupy the newest chapter of this history, the asylum seekers occupying the top floor of the sixth block, are to be spared the destruction. Their part in the “ongoing regeneration of social housing” is to be determined at a later date.
The other five blocks will be destroyed and the live footage will be beamed into the auditorium at Celtic Park on July 23. All those living in the environs, around 900 people, will be relocated for the duration and have invitations to join in the games celebrations. The blasting itself will all be over in 15 seconds.
Glasgow has a hard act to follow, as the stakes are raised every time there is a global sporting event, and how to find original and exciting ideas for the all important opening and closing ceremonies gets ever harder. There are only so many fireworks that can be set off and world expectations are high.
Akin to Danny Boyle’s vision for the London 2012 Olympics, the Glasgow Games team decided to tell the story of the city, with the key message being that is it moving forward as a “brave, confident and great city.” Change and progress are the components of this propulsion.
Change and progress were exactly what the Red Road flats represented when they were built in the era between 1964 and 1969. Post war Glasgow had been facing a severe housing shortage. A delegation went off to Marseilles and were inspired by the work of Le Corbusier. High-rise living was not only space-saving but offered the never-before luxuries of indoor bathrooms and central heating.
Altogether, nearly 5,000 people could be housed in this one development, formerly a cabbage patch, soaring above their former lives down in the cramped and dirty tenements. They were the highest development in the whole of Europe, the tallest tower reaching 31 floors. The rents were a lot more expensive in there than folk were used to paying, and many had to take on two jobs to keep up the payments. It was a price they felt was worth paying.
The sixties’s architectural dream turned sour when social problems arose. The estate became synonymous with crime and misery. Decline became very serious around the 1970s. They were all scheduled for demolition within the next two years when the games organizers came up with their concept to incorporate their demise with the ceremonial story.
The debate is not over yet as Grevemberg and other organisers will meet the next week with Carolyn Leckie the Scottish member of parliament who lodged the petition. They aim to persuade her to drop her call for this element of the proceedings to be halted.
Len Bunton, the son of Sam Bunton who was the architect on the Red Road flats, says the intention to destroy them in this way is “disrespectful.” Whilst he accepts that the flats need to come down, and that their time of being fit for purpose has passed, he does not like the way it is being envisaged.
Alison Irvine, an author who has written a book about the flats and their occupants This Road is Red agrees with Len Bunton. She asks what right the organizers have to “embarrass Scotland?” In riposte, the Games team stress their metaphor of regeneration and reinvention.
A dominant feature of the skyline for decades, the Red Road flats may ultimately have been a failure as a social experiment but they still retain fond memories for many. They even starred in their own film Red Road in 2012, directed by Andrea Arnold.
It has certainly never been done before, to demolish an entire housing estate on live television in an international opening ceremony, but whether the Glasgow Commonwealth Games will see this happen,is still subject to controversy and dissent.
By Kate Henderson
Channel 4 News