Monday, 1 August 2011

Now You See Them...

Yesterday, in an area of Dundee called the Hilltown, four multi-storey blocks were demolished in a series of controlled explosions.  The demolition is particularly amazing because these blocks were in a residential/business area which gave no leeway for the demolition company.  As you can see, all was well.

I remember the area back in the 50s when it was a bustling community with housing desperately in need of maintenance and many of the tenements still shared toilet facilities.  My school friend's mother had a draper's shop - which would be called a women's boutique today - and we both helped out on Saturdays.  She would offer tea and biscuits at 4pm and women from the surrounding homes would squeeze into the shop for the last two hours of the week, not to drink tea, but to catch up on local affairs in a warm environment. Often we would be there washing up until at least 7pm while Mrs Clarke counted her takings.  Being an astute business woman I'm sure she made a few pounds from her Saturday soirees.

When I returned to visit my school friend in the 60s, she had been allocated a house in one of these multis.  Not being a lover of lifts, I trudged to the 11th floor to visit her brand-new daughter and gaze at the exceptional view she had over the junction of the Tay and the North Sea. A year or so later my friend and her husband had saved enough to buy their own small home and I was never subjected to the climb of a multi again.

Were these concrete blocks built to give local people a better home or were they built for financial gain?  Probably a bit of both. The old homes could have been modernised but that would have been an expensive project, so the city fathers saw these concrete towers as a way to resolve the housing issue and make money at the same time.  Sadly, much of old Dundee's Hilltown community vanished when these towering structures rose out of the ground.

Will they be missed?  Perhaps by some but not by me. Dundee's council leaders have been fond of destroying the heritage of the city over the years and the 60s produced some monstrous architecture, most of which has already been demolished and replaced by more aesthetically pleasing buildings. Yesterday the landscape was enhanced by their disappearance.

video via Tris


Eva Robinson said...

Interesting piece, Rosa and totally agree. I always thought those blocks were an eyesore. My family grew up in one of the older tenements in the Hilltown, sharing a toilet with several families and living in some poverty, but they still always claimed those blocks could have been renovated. As you rightly say, cost would have been an issue and I suppose the need was great at the time.

I think Dundee followed the same path as other councils in the 60s demolishing and removing a lot of areas with character and replacing them with concrete monstrosities. And like you, I'm not sad to see them go.

RMcGeddon said...

'Controlled explosion' sounds like an oxymoron ;)
'Controlled demolition' is probably a bit closer to the truth.
Were the tenants told about the demolition ? I'm sure I saw someone at one of the windows.
I see Perth City Hall is destined to be flattened in order to create 'an open space'. The demolition of our old buildings is still going on.

RMcGeddon said...

The beautiful Perth City Hall. To be flattened to create 'an open space'..

Captain Ranty said...

Be honest now: did anyone NOT think of Towers 1, 2 and 7 when they came down?


Joe Public said...

1. Expertly executed demolition, SR.

Reminds me of Fred Dibnah's demolition skills, and how he had a fair turn of speed for an elderly gentleman.

2. ".....women from the surrounding homes would squeeze into the shop for the last two hours of the week, not to drink tea, but to catch up on local affairs in a warm environment. " AKA Gossip.

3. "Were these concrete blocks built to give local people a better home or were they built for financial gain? "

A third reason was to boost the egos of local councilors. "Our tower blocks are taller than your tower blocks" seemed to be the competition in a vast number of local authorities at that time.

petem130 said...

Interesting article Subrosa.

Councils seem to operate in a peer environment with other Scottish Councils and perhaps those from further afield. I think there's also a bit of jumping on the bandwagon. Someone builds high rise and then they all want to be seen doing it and doing it better.

Like the Edinburgh trams?

Interestingly, in Falkirk they have tower blocks in Callendar Park. These are very popular with people queuing to get the flats when they become empty. They've been well maintained too.

Dundee has the Gehry designed Maggies at the hospital and there's the Hadid designed Maggies in Kirkcaldy. Of course there's the new museum to look forward too.

Destroying the old? I would have thought it would be listed if it had any value architecturally or historically?

All Seeing Eye said...

My understanding is that Perth City Hall is B-Listed but the council are trying to bargain with Historic Scotland by trading it for "greater accessibility" to St John's Kirk (A listed.)

Which seems a bit like a 6th Form debating tactic to get somebody's vanity project approved.

On topic, good to see urban regeneration making sensible decisions for a change which might, if done properly, rebuild a community.

Demetrius said...

In the 1960's local government boundaries, housing and finance were not the same. Although it seems strange fifty years on there was a clear financial logic to piling your people high within your own boundaries in council housing. Especially, if when you built you cut corners and ignored the architects fancier ideas about community provision.

RMcGeddon said...

Yes it's B listed. The council want to create an open space for burger vans and stalls etc...

microdave said...

"The council want to create an open space for burger vans and stalls etc..."

Be afraid, be VERY afraid...

Seen at the sweary clowns place.

Observer said...

Some of the multi story sites in Glasgow have been re-developed instead of being knocked down. The flats at Cowcaddens are a good example, they have been completely refurbished & look spectacular.

The question of whether flats are demolished depends on whether there is demand for them, that is actually very logical because it is tenants who genuinely decide.

I've seen a lot of multi storey flats being demolished over the years & it never fails to amaze how cleanly they do it.

I think multi-storey flats are completely unsuitable for people with children, the more popular ones tend to have an older population. If landlords were smart they would try & allocate them that way, although they are not allowed to actively discriminate. But there are ways around that.....

Observer said...

What I find interesting is that there are lots of mini multi storey flats being thrown up by private house builders, & when I say thrown up that's what I mean. They are largely bought up by buy to let owners.

These will be the slums of the future, & they will be private sector slums.

I don't know why they are getting planning permission to do that. It's a disaster waiting to happen.

Observer said...

''Be honest now: did anyone NOT think of Towers 1, 2 and 7 when they came down?''

During one of the demolitions here, I think it was in Dalmarnock, they used the demolition process to test whether the towers did collapse as a result of planes flying into them as opposed to some of the other theories.

The conclusion was that the towers collapsed because planes flew into them.

subrosa said...

Dundee was worse than any other city for demolishing in the 50s and 60s I think Ally. The road bridge gave them a fine excuse I suppose.

Such a shame it lost so much of it's character and atmosphere. The market under the Caird Hall was another place I loved yet it was closed because it was 'unsafe'. The same area is now an underground car park. I use it occasionally and wonder if it too is unsafe.

subrosa said...

Aye RM, it seems everyone within a certain distance was consulted. The demolition company are pretty good at that I was told.

subrosa said...

'Beautiful' Perth City Hall? It's an awful place, dreadful acoustics, kitchens miles from anywhere and in the bowels, isn't big enough for big shows and too big for small ones. Naw.

subrosa said...

Tut tut Joe, I was giving these women the respect they deserved. I'm sure quite a few serious issues were resolved in that shop later on Saturdays. :)

subrosa said...

You're very possibly right petem. If you're meaning the Perth City Halls they are grade B listed I think, but the councillors have managed to get round that. Same as they do for developers who want to build on green sites.

subrosa said...

Jings ASE, spot on. They want to have a plaza instead of the building. More concrete or crazy paving. Perth doesn't actually have weather good enough for a plaza. Now, if it was to be a daily market place then I'd say go for it. They sold the old market place to M & S years ago.

subrosa said...

Thanks microdave. Scary indeed.

subrosa said...

Observer, I don't think there's the demand for housing in Dundee as there is in Glasgow.

These multis have been standing empty for years and were totally neglected - rather like the tenements they replaced. Too expensive to refurbish I suppose after so many years of neglect.

It always amazes me too seeing the demolitions.

I can understand that and perhaps that's why they became unpopular as they weren't homes for young families. Surely it should be easy to allocate to people who would find them suitable for their situations. Ah, but of course there's possibly legislation which doesn't allow that. Daft really.

Haven't seen any mini-multis around Dundee or Perth yet. Mind you Perth never had multis. I can fully understand your concern though.

subrosa said...

Ah Observer, I was too slow catching onto Ranty's comment. Thanks for waking me up.

subrosa said...

Ranty, sorry no I didn't think of them. Wasn't the construction very different?

RMcGeddon said...

SR said

"'Beautiful' Perth City Hall? It's an awful place, dreadful acoustics, kitchens miles from anywhere and in the bowels, isn't big enough for big shows and too big for small ones. Naw."

Erk. You sound like a 1960's dundee cooncillor with a bulging broon envelope in his back pocket lol
I thought the new Perth Concert Hall had made the City Hall redundant as a concert venue ?
Could the building not be used for other things ? Refurbished like Mcmanus Gallery in Dundee ? Wedding venue. Ceilidhs etc.
Seems strange that Perth are trying to achieve City status while demolishing their City architecture. All for an 'open space'.

subrosa said...

RM, I've played in orchestras in that place and I've also helped out at certain conferences. The layout is poor and the whole inside would need to be rehashed to make it a place where people would want to hold functions. Plus of course, the council charge extortionate rates for the place.

I don't agree with an open space and I think somehow the facade could be kept as that is reasonably attractive.

Since Perth built the concert hall the city halls have been redundant. No developer wants to develop them because of cost. If they built an undercover market with facilities to hold small meetings/functions that would be a more civic idea. But they won't build a market because Tesco wouldn't like it.

RMcGeddon said...

SR. The council are planning to spend £3m demolishing the building and slabbing the square. Instead they could use that money for a tidy up of the building and converting it into a homeless dormitory for the coming armageddon.
Maybe also give free concerts from volunteers with orchestra experience.

subrosa said...

Auch RM, there's nae winning this argument with you. :)

Have you ever been part of a music group playing in the City Halls? Have you ever been part of an audience witnessing said music group?

The acoustics are dreadful. About 20 years ago they spent around £1.5m trying to sort it out - along with other bugbears - but all that happened was the 'core' sound moved from the left to the right. The hall was badly designed and I think (if my memory serves me well today) that it would cost far more than a few million to make the Halls acceptable for rental.

The council don't want the building. They now have the Concern Hall and have no interest in spending further money on it.

Personally I don't have a clue why it was built in such a crammed situation in the first place. Sounds like Perth had councillors similar to Dundee back in Edwardian times. :)

RMcGeddon said...

I've never been keen on music groups SR but I'm sure they're great ;)
Maybe in Edwardian times there was more space around the City Hall building and no shopping centre etc.
Homeless folk aren't looking for great accoustics SR. Just a feeding station and some cordoned off sleeping areas with washing facilities. Surely that could be done for £3m ?
Oh logging in is getting more difficult SR. You have to give a phone number to post comments. I'm hopeless trying to remember my mobile number but hopefully I gave the right one.

subrosa said...

RM, there's already a homeless hostel in Perth. Does it need another? I'll ask about.

Sorry about the logging in becoming a problem. Which system would you prefer? Some comment systems leave me more confused than usual.

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