The Day after Demolition – 13th October 2015
After 5 hours spent standing, waiting, watching for the demolition yesterday – I had presumed it was my last time seeing Red Road and my documentation would have come to an end. But here I was again, cycling up to Red Road early this morning with cameras in my backpack looking to document the aftermath of a bit of a botched demolition.
It was a beautiful clear day at Red Road this morning – the demolition of four of the flats opened up the area and light was spilling in from new directions. The exclusion zones were gone and the roads opened, people commuted – normal service has resumed. There was little sign of dust – last nights rain had washed it away – but lying around on the ground and in the trees were torn pieces of the red mesh that once wrapped around the flats.
Punters stood by the Red Road burger van laughing and pointing at the two towers still remaining standing – albeit somewhat reduced in size – both at angles and both looking fairly precarious. There was a trickle of photographers and press – but nothing compared to yesterdays Demolition Derby. The contractors were nowhere to be seen so you could get a wee bit closer to the site, perhaps closer than they would have liked. Some eager local residents joined in and wandered close to the partially collapsed towers.
As the staff arrived to start clear up we were ushered from the area. On exit I glanced down and picked up a postcard that was blown from one of the two surviving blocks. It was a holiday postcard from Malta – sent by a mum and dad to their son. It had a 10 cents stamp and mentioned bus fares being 7p so it must have been from a bygone era. A strange but fitting souvenir – a parting gift from the Red Road that symbolised just one family’s story from the thousands who had once lived here. Maybe it was fated to find it – and maybe my documentation of Red Road is not over? The last two blocks stand defiant with all the destruction around them, as if to say the game’s not quite ‘a bogie’ – at least not yet…
“But this is no time to dredge up vague premonitions. Savage, bestial city destroyers with no conscience are hard at work gutting, sacking, murdering the population, burning archives and libraries, demolishing museums and houses of worship.”
Bohdan Bogdanovic, Serbian Architect, 1994
Comparing Bosnia to Glasgow is probably going to confuse and possibly upset some people, especially Glaswegians. But the inspiration for my project – The Glasgow Renaissance, with its doomed high rise flats, empty homes and desolation take me back to 1996; to the ethnically cleansed and destroyed towns of Croatia, and the jaw dropping citywide destruction of Sarajevo.
The connection between the two places is of course, far-fetched. People in Bosnia and Croatia had their homes destroyed, or had to flee them for very different reasons than the Glaswegians I have documented, and it is impossible to downplay or be-little the savagery that swept across the region. After the war, much of Bosnia’s landscape was ruined and empty and that’s when my journey began – and the comparisons began to emerge. Placing photographs of destroyed, empty landscapes of Glasgow side by side with those from Bosnia, with no captions and you may find it difficult to choose which is which.
Chris Leslie, War torn Croatia 1996, Photo by Pete Pawinski
Pakrac Croatia, 1996. I spent 5 months here, working on a volunteer social reconstruction project in this destroyed and divided town. Pakrac was 80-85% destroyed during the war and was in many ways, the middle of nowhere. In my time off I cycled around the ruins of the ethnically cleansed and destroyed homes. Sometimes quite stupidly (the area was littered with landmines) I ventured into abandoned buildings and homes.
Left behind were photographs, clothes, pictures on walls. As the homes were emptied most of the buildings were set on fire, so there wasn’t much to photograph but occasionally you would find the odd solitary shoe lying amongst the carnage and you only hoped that its owner had escaped and survived.
12 years later whilst out running I first discovered the Oatlands estate in Glasgow. Abandoned and partially boarded up, the flats had been emptied years before, but they remained littered with personal belongings such as letters, photographs, clothes and toys. It felt like people had fled in a hurry, unsure of where they were going, or their final destination.
Walking around what was left of the Oatlands I was taken back to my days in Pakrac. My wife freaked out claiming it could be dangerous, with security fences, rotten collapsed floorboards, and leaking gas meters – and sometimes it could be. But this time there were no landmines to worry about.
I moved back to Glasgow in late 2004 after 5 years in a sleepy Wiltshire town of thatched cottages, no crime, no litter and not even a sniff of dog s**t on the street, the polar opposite to the streets of Bridgeton. I remember driving past Ardenlea / Summerfield St in Dalmarnock on a cold misty winters evening at 4 in the afternoon and being transported back to the first time I drove into Sarajevo in 1996.
The Whitevale Flats have the most striking physical resemblance to the UNIS towers in Sarajevo. The UNIS towers were clear targets for the Serb artillery and a symbol of Sarajevo’s financial sector. Partially stripped back of their glass and facade the buildings resembled the brutalist concrete structure of the Whitevale flats, almost as if the latter are half constructed buildings, just awaiting their shinny coat of a glass and steel facade. (Maybe even putting cladding and glass on the Whitevale flats could be an option rather than wholesale demolition.)
The regeneration of Glasgow and the destroyed landscapes left by the process are temporary, these structures that will only exist for a limited time. Just like in Bosnia, they will be rebuilt in time.
In Bosnia the hope is that war will not return to create more havoc and destruction. In Glasgow we can only hope that in 30 years time the new homes and communities we are building now do not suffer the same fate of ‘knock em down, build em up again’.
Chris Leslie documents the disappearing areas and memories of Glasgow in the wake of the city’s vast regeneration scheme. We talked to him.
Author – Mark Minkjan
Early 2012, Failed Architecture visited Red Road, an impressive housing estate consisting of eight high rises in the north east of Glasgow, built in 1967 to house about 4,700 people. They were once the highest flats in Europe. By the time we were there, two of them had already been emptied and party stripped, awaiting demolition. The other six are to be torn down by 2017, as part of Glasgow’s larger regeneration plan. Red Road is not the only part of the city on death row.
The regeneration scheme will bring significant change throughout the city, especially to eight condemned areas that are seen as outdated and problematic. Glaswegian photographer, filmmaker and visual artist Chris Leslie started documenting the disappearing buildings, areas, communities and stories in 2007. This resulted in The Glasgow Renaissance, a multimedia project with a large emphasis on the current and former residents and the memories of the places that have to go. We talked to Chris Leslie about his project and Glasgow’s regeneration….
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