History                                                 | introduction | drivers for high rise living | reasons for decline |

The tower block building typology has its roots in the urban commercial buildings of Chicago of the 19th Century. High-rise construction is associated with the invention of the lift and the progressive industrialization of concrete and steel construction techniques.

The high-rise forms of residential living, tenement buildings and apartment blocks have their origins in the North American and European cities of the 19th Century as the industrial revolution led to the intensification of urbanisation. The transfer of the technology of industrial buildings and commercial towers to residential construction was the result of a combination of pressures and contexts, such as land prices, accommodation shortages, larger scale of redevelopment; and changes in perception and approach to housing provision.

The residential tower is essentially a post World War II phenomenon in the UK, with the majority of residential towers being constructed between 1949 and 1972.The clearance of slum areas, the consequence of bomb damage, and the large numbers returning from war to destroyed or sub-standard accommodation, all required a restructuring of many urban centres and the creation of several new towns. The approach to these restructuring processes was greatly influenced by the ideas, politics and economics of modernization.

After the Second World War public housing policy was coordinated by national agencies to be planned, designed and built according to the latest specs under professional supervision aimed at assuring health, convenience and architectural quality. Government policy was committed both to a programme of construction to rapidly meet the housing shortages (which was essentially met between 1949 and 1960), but also to programmes of modernisation. The nature of modernisation is still a difficult concept in today’s political discussions, but at that time values attached to the old urban forms, terraced houses etc. were considered less acceptable than more scientific design principles of availability of light, ventilation and green spaces, and also incorporation of the motor vehicles into town planning.

The nature of the architectural solutions proposed and constructed in the post-war period reveals a strong hope and belief in the ability of architectonic forms and ensembles to provide solutions to complex social problems. The issues that were considered for modernisation were light and ventilation, equality of access, standards of spatial provision, community building and quality of construction. Some of the social housing today, still struggles to provide a similar standard of accommodation area within the cost and quality constraints.

In the post war reconstruction process, the tower block was seen as a way of quickly and cost-effectively constructing large number of dwellings which gave benefits of availability to light, ventilation, green spaces, parking, and urban locations. The new houses were supposed to be the outcome of a thorough analysis of the technical and socio-psychological situation of that period. The reconstruction aimed at unifying the physical fabric and meeting the socio-political values of equality, quality and peace.

From 1919 to 1945 privately built mass housing for renting declined and was replaced by large-scale municipal housing. After the end of the First World War, the construction of dwellings through public and non-profit making agencies, was seen as a necessity by professional and political groups.

During the post second world war period, a big demand for new dwellings was foreseen due to an expected demographic growth, increase in housing needs and the economic situation. It was during this time that tower block design and construction was conceived as a housing typology. Also, as a result of post-war policy changes capital investment became available for large-scale singular projects. These large-scale projects in turn enabled a mass-production approach to be economically viable, and was also considered a way to utilise the industrial mobilization of the war in peacetime activities. There were many other factors driving the choice of construction techniques towards prefabrication, design and build procurement and system building away from traditional construction and procurement methods.

Shortages of skills; changes in the construction industry; and the size of the immediate housing shortage impacted on the economic climate and the construction methods employed. System built tower blocks from large construction companies such as Wates and Bryant became the norm, and government policy encouraged local authorities to use them to solve housing shortages. Some major architects and thinkers also participated in the quest to come up with solutions appropriate to the requirements of the time.

Le Corbusier
Aside from being an architect, Le Corbusier is probably best remembered as a city planner. As with architecture, he thought urban design called for a rebirth. In his book Urbanisme, he writes “By this immense step in evolution, so brutal and so overwhelming, we burn our bridges and break with the past.” He suggested replacing the center of Paris with 18 sixty-story tall buildings. He saw the modern city as one without congestion and confusion. He was partial to high-rise towers sparsely scattered throughout a park-like landscape. He saw these conceptions as possible if work was accomplished on a grand scale. During the post war era house building activity was undertaken on the grand scale that Corbusier envisioned. He said, ”we must decongest the centres of our cities by increasing their density. In addition, we must improve circulation and increase the amount of open spaces. The paradox could be resolved by building high on small part of the total ground area.” This city with skyscrapers, vast parks, and wide highways he called La Ville Radieuse, The Radiant City.

Post war buildings
After World War II almost 64% of total public housing comprised of cottages (located in suburban development), around 20% took the form of flats in 3 to 5 storey high buildings (mainly in inner slums clearance areas and in outer suburban locations of Scotland).

Around 20% formed a newly emerging type, flats and maisonettes of 6 or more stories. With the need to provide large numbers of dwellings at low cost, tower blocks emerged as a representation of modernisation and in an attempt to fulfil the twin demands of quantity and quality.




Project partners: | Price Myers: Sustainability | Battle McCarthy | Architype | STBI | Franklin Andrews |    

last updated: 11/25/11

2004 Price & Myers         ...................................................                                     Contact: sustainability@pricemyers.com