Housing at Castlemilk - Glasgow - Men at work on 20 storey multi flatsHousing at Castlemilk - Glasgow - Men at work on 20 storey multi flats
Housing at Castlemilk - Glasgow - Men at work on 20 storey multi flats

Scotland's high-rises in the 1960s: The villages in the sky that transformed life for a generation of Scots - including the Glasgow tower blocks

They had been hailed as the great antidote to the country’s housing ills, that would transform the lives of a generation of Scots who had been subjected to living standards more akin to the previous century.

In the 1960s high-rise living was viewed as the way forward and every major city in Scotland committed to building their own ‘villages in the sky’.

Tenements were cleared in the inner city districts of Glasgow, Dundee and Edinburgh, with inhabitants relocated en masse to new communities, usually on the outskirts.

But nowhere in Scotland was the residential tower block more popular than in Glasgow.

Scotland’s largest city witnessed the demolition of hundreds of dilapidated and overcrowded Victorian tenements in Anderston, Townhead, the Gorbals, and other working class areas. In their place, more than 4,000 high rise homes rose towards the heavens.

The green belt area at Balornock saw eight huge tower blocks constructed. Later known as the Red Road flats, they would be the tallest residential high rises in Europe, at 28 and 31 storeys tall.

Initially, many people were pleased with their new dwellings and the modern conveniences now offered to them. For those who had grown up in cramped tenements with inadequate sanitation, life in the tower blocks and new estates was a major step up in the world.

However, as the years rolled on, the dream began to turn sour and the multi storeys, like the tenement districts before them, were soon associated with high levels of crime and poor standards of living.

The high rise dwelling rapidly fell out of favour as the 20th century spun to a close. The Hutchesontown flats in the Gorbals area of Glasgow were among the first tower blocks to be demolished in 1993.

Since then, dozens more have toppled in Glasgow and elsewhere, with local councils committed to the wholesale demolition of the majority of post-war tower blocks.

Attitudes, however, are shifting all the time.

The decision by Historic Environment Scotland in 2017 to award a Category A listing to the brutalist ‘banana’ flats at Cables Wynd in Leith, Edinburgh, marked a significant turning point for Scotland’s high rises as the nation begins to recognise their architectural and cultural importance.