Leith's 'Banana Flats' awarded A-list heritage status

The "Banana Flats" in Leith have been the maximum protection from Historic Environment Scotland.
The "Banana Flats" in Leith have been the maximum protection from Historic Environment Scotland.
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Leith’s “Banana Flats”, which were immortalised in Irvine Welsh’s novel Trainspotting, have been given A-listed status by heritage chiefs.

Cables Wynd House, which earned its nickname due to its distinctive curved shape, is now rated one of Scotland’s finest post-war buildings.

The “special architectural importance” of the block of flats – the childhood home of Simon “Sick Boy” Williamson in Trainspotting – has been cited by Historic Environment Scotland.

The "Brutalist" building is now rated alongside the likes of Edinburgh Castle, the Forth Road Bridge, the Royal Commonwealth Pool and the 1967 glasshouses at the Royal Botanic Garden.

Both Cables Wynd House and the neighbouring Linksview House, which has also been given A-listed status, are said to be of national significance due to their “groundbreaking designs”.

When they were built in the 1960s they were seen as offering “a new vision for social housing”, according to the government agency.

The Banana Flats date back to the early 1960s.

The Banana Flats date back to the early 1960s.

It has admitted that the two blocks of local-authority owned flats are "perhaps unloved and unappreciated by some," but insists the decision to give them the maximum protection possible was only made after extensive talks with local residents.

Historic Environment Scotland’s deputy head of designations, Dawn McDowell, said: “Following the Second World War, Scotland’s cities undertook ambitious building programmes to improve living conditions and health standards.

“The initial thinking was to provide only the most basic, high-density accommodation, at minimal cost, leading to the introduction of the high-rise flat.

“In the early 1960s, a new, higher quality, and more holistic approach to housing schemes was pioneered, inspired by housing schemes in France – which aimed to create not just houses, but communities. Cables Wynd House and Linksview are among the best examples of these schemes, with their use of external access decks as a way of recreating the civic spirit of traditional tenemented streets.”

However, yesterday, the Evening News told how residents had been left without heating or hot water all weekend after a boiler failure.

A spokeswoman for the city council, which recently overhauled both blocks of flats, said: “These landmark buildings now join a growing list of post war category-A buildings that Edinburgh can boast.

“At the time of their construction they were revolutionary, with innovations like heated floors, a concierge, lifts, and a design intended to maximise exposure to daylight for the residents.

“The listing recognises their fascinating history and will help to keep the features which make them a unique and significant part of the city’s history.”

Both Cables Wynd House and Linksview House were deployed by Danny Boyle during location filming on the new sequel T2 Trainspotting, which was released last weekend.

Rosie Ellison, at Film Edinburgh, said: “These buildings are an iconic part of Leith and as such are part of the landscape that makes Leith an attractive place for filmmakers to put on the screen. It’s good to know that they are going to be protected.”

Miles Glendinning, director of the Scottish Centre for Conservation Studies, said: "

“These two blocks abundantly merit their listing at category A, because they combine international excellence in modernist urban design with an attention to the spirit of place that is specific to Edinburgh, especially to the ‘conservative surgery’ concept of urban renewal, pioneered by Patrick Geddes around 1900.

"Edinburgh’s post-war multi storey social housing redevelopments were designed to fit into small, highly constrained sites.

"I believe that Cables Wynd House, in particular, was built in its distinctive curved shape as a creative solution to the constraints of that particular site.

"Along with Linksview House, it represents an outstanding synthesis of international modernist architecture with Geddes’s ‘conservative surgery’ principles.”

Leith MSP Ben Macpherson said: “The ‘Banana Flats’ and Linksview House are unique and iconic buildings in Leith, and the decision to give them A-listed heritage status is undoubtedly a controversial one.

"The focus now must be, as it should always have been, on the health and welfare of the residents. Design is important but people must always come first.

“The new status of the buildings creates some opportunities. It is no secret that there have been internal issues with the flats over the years.

"Now that they are A-listed buildings, I hope this decision invigorates investment in the structures and interiors. I have contacted Historic Environment Scotland to discuss how this new status can help improve both buildings.”