Decay by Design
This thesis initially explored the idea of architectural destruction, in the form of demolition of the urban fabric as seen through the post-war reconstruction of Glasgow in the 20th century. In response, organic decay accelerated by the city’s damp climate is studied, and re-framed to provide a positive alternative to man-made destruction. Themes of education and adaptive reuse are woven into this narrative. An image of decay is presented where, rather than representing a loss of function, it describes an opportunity for entropic growth.
By examining architectural decay, this thesis will explore how re-inhabiting disused sites can preserve the invisible infrastructure of memories and provide a sustainable building model. A series of interventions will be used to examine the relationship between old and new and explore the ethical significance behind what we choose to rebuild, what we leave behind, and the importance of time as a building material. This thesis will look at environments deemed unworthy of preservation and suggest an alternative mode of use. Explorations into alternative modes of conservation must be considered, rather than a post-rationalisation of benign neglect.
What can the cycles of construction and decay teach us about issues such as time, change, and impermanence, while facilitating education and community growth?
How does Schumpeter’s theory of creative destruction relate to the Red Road flats and the Glaswegian urban context?
Of all human activities, building has been traditionally referred to as the most stable and rigid. However, the last century has seen this view changing. Architecture has been increasingly considered a creative enterprise, a model of the cultural zeitgeist which incites new ways of living. Joseph Schumpeter’s theory of creative destruction describes the dismantling of established processes as an essential dynamic of capitalism. The theory assumes that the traditional arrangements and means of production must be destroyed to free up room for innovations. The post-war periods of the 20th century were among some of the most dramatic in human history. It was a time of unique destruction, innovative mega-constructions, and technological feats which obliterated the cultural environment as wartime industries shifted to accommodate the consumer market, and cities struggled to house their population. None more so than in Glasgow, where the dual issues of declining industries and mass slum occupation of the inner city forced innovation.
The Red Road flats were constructed in 1967 to house former residents of Glasgow’s inner-city areas who were moved to the suburbs in the process of slum clearances. In addition to being renowned for their innovative structure, they were seen as the utopian answer to Glasgow’s housing shortage. The flats were a derivative of the avant-garde concepts for multi-storey housing advocated for by architects of the early 20th century such as Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius. High-rise housing had been having a boom across Europe in the post-war period as a solution to poor living conditions in congested, slum-ridden city centres. Fuelled by a belief in the social power of technological innovation and under the pressure of intense housing shortages, Glasgow City Council commissioned architect Sam Bunton to design the eight towers, ranging in height from twenty-eight to thirty-one stories. The flats are notable for being Britain’s only example of steel-framed high-rise residential buildings constructed in the postwar period of welfare housing provision
The Red Road flats were exemplars of a type of creative destruction that took two forms; the rethinking of the way we house our population through the normalisation of high-rise housing, and the use of technological advancements in building materials. Assemblage I and II are an attempt to physically realise these dual forms of innovation at the urban (Assemblage I) and the human scale (Assemblage II). These pieces are intended to act as both sculptures and architectural models. The work of Toby Paterson was particularly influential to these pieces; his work reflects on the experience of art and architecture of post-war Britain through the lens of time.
Assemblage I is a 1:2500 scale model of the Red Roads flats as seen before demolition. It attempts to evoke the commonly considered ‘negative’ effects of the search for a new urbanity, the destruction of community, the emergence of alienation, and the introduction of unhealthy building materials into the domestic environment. Assemblage II is a 1:25 scale abstraction of the construction methods employed in the building of the flats, as captured by photographer Chris Leslie. It attempts to critique the experimental nature of innovative technologies being used as a solution to societal problems, an experience that is so often unevenly experienced across class.