No one-size-fits-all in housing: we tried this with the doomed International Style exported by Corbusier and others only to see sub-standard imitations de-humanise too many cities.
All cities have a unique grid, pattern, language and character and their housing should be tailored from the cloth of that identity. For this study I took Glasgow as my model a city famous for its tenements and for the mis-guided 1950s destruction of its heart and soul by well-meaning but insensitive planners. Wrecking balls tore down the classical inspired tenements of architects like Greek Thompson, replacing them with the soul-less brutalism of high-rise flats. Surely, we missed a step in between of creating proper homes set in identifiable communities.
I have drawn on Glasgow’s many traits: the colourful tiled ‘closes’; the robustness of the stone tenements with their circular stone stair towers and central communal open spaces; and the tall chimneys that once packed the skyline. Tight city grids where people lived and worked have been re-collaged to create a living, breathing high street. One that blends small-scale office chambers offering co-working and start-up opportunities; adds new typologies of accommodation into the mix with studios and workshops for artists and artisans in live-work spaces. Smaller shops and cafes are where commerce is heading and these would make the collaged high street greener, more personal, more communal: modern urban villages, in fact.
The new tenement accommodation would offer a variety of spaces classified by their floor area rather than the number of bedrooms, that peculiarly British affectation, which would be built around a courtyard anchored either end with small office spaces and Single-End studios for artists that could be on short term lease agreements.
Tall chimneys once dominated the Glasgow skyline but instead of soot and grime in the new vision there would be bright garden-flats aimed at the older generation who want to retire peacefully but not leave the city, just step back a bit. Communities thrive on the diversity and the wisdom that they can offer.
Serried ranks of houses cannot, of themselves, make communities. Their occupants need places to visit, to study, to play, to meet and to enjoy. The People’s Liner, echoing Glasgow’s People’s Palace, is a metaphor for the great ship-building days on the Clyde where the shipyards were hubs for living and working communities. Huge ocean liners built in Johns Brown’s shipyard were majestic, if transitory, civic objects that could be viewed from the heart of the city.
Re-creating the sense of community pride that these ships once offered in the form of a fresh building format would provide a new backbone to disjointed neighbourhoods. They would be centres for the arts and for performance but also repositories for skills and crafts where people could re-cycle and repair objects. A key element would be the inclusion of assisted-living to allow retired residents to stay locally and encouraging people of all ages to be an active and positive part of their community.
Perhaps it is the pandemic with its undercurrent of make-do-and-mend that has inspired me to re-configure a city via a collage of its history and character. Collage is not pastiche, just look at how fresh the art of Peter Blake is to this day, but inspiration and emancipation for overlooked communities to be re-built from the pieces of their past in a new and better way. Inspiration could come from Glasgow’s shipyards or Sheffield’s steel mills; from Birmingham’s car plants or London’s docks for people living and working and thriving in
11 / 06 / 2023