London photographer Robert Glowacki moved from Warsaw two years ago to scour the streets for interesting people and subjects around London, initially inspiring his first book Eastenders which explores the personalities and quirks of London's East End. Never having studied photography, Glowacki's main fascination came from fashion shoots. Now his latest book covers the much-maligned London tower blocks that frame our city's skyline.
In Robert's own words:
“I've been obsessed with tower blocks for as long as I can remember but I've never lived in one. You can find them in every European city but the ones I saw in London really captured my imagination. I’m not sure if you can say this about a building but to me they’re somehow dehumanized but at the same time truly fascinating with hundreds of hopes and dreams trapped inside. I always say that this book is not about architecture, it's really about people but without a single picture of people in it.”
Despite the Conservatives’ best efforts, tower blocks continue to form an essential part of the London skyline. Last year, Conservative think tank Policy Exchange published a report that proposed tower block demolitions, saying “the unpopular, ugly, high rise tower blocks… scar the Capital’s skyline and encourage crime and social alienation.” In Towers of London, we look at the hidden beauty of London's tower blocks. But where we see splendour, some see squalor.
Colliers Wood Tower, South West London
The “most hated” building in London according to a 2006 BBC poll, and one of the ugliest 12 in the UK according to Channel Four’s 2005 programme Demolition. One local resident told the BBC that the building “creates huge, hurricane-type winds that make the area an umbrella graveyard”. It is currently uninhabited, but there is a makeover on the way.
Caliban Tower, Hackney
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. But would this Hoxton-based monolith by any other name be any pleasanter? Trinidad Guardian reporter Joshua Surtees is normally a big fan of tower blocks, but not this one. “Caliban Tower’s name is oddly appropriate. If any building were to sum up the shipwrecked, deformed, deranged half man/half beast character from The Tempest this monstrosity is surely it.”
RONAN POINT, NEWHAM
In 1968, the 22-storey Ronan Point tower block in east London collapsed two months after it was built, killing four people and injuring 17. A gas explosion demolished a load-bearing wall, and an entire corner of the building came crashing down. The incident led to stricter building regulations, but the building was only fully demolished in 1986.
FRED WIGG TOWER, LEYTONSTONE
Residents tried to stop high-velocity missiles being installed on top of their 17-storey tower block during the Olympics. They argued that this could make them vulnerable to a terrorist attack and that it was a “disproportionate interference” with their human rights. They lost the bid against the Ministry of Defence, and the missiles were installed anyway, Because we’re all in this together.
TRELLICK TOWER, NORTH KENSINGTON
As if being featured in Hard-Fi and The Verve music videos weren’t bad enough, Trellick Tower is now going to be turned into a trendy “high-rise for hipsters”. The Evening Standard reports that: “Young designers and entrepreneurs are queuing up now to make Trellick their new HQ.” There is a “mocktail” bar and veggie café run by an “entrepreneur with a conscience”.
METRO CENTRAL HEIGHS, ELEPHANT AND CASTLE
Commonly known as ‘Ernö Goldfinger’s ugly tower block’ and once earmarked for demolition, Elephant and Castle’s towers have had the last laugh. Despite being described as “one of the worst examples of soulless post-war developments” by the Design Museum, not only is the complex still standing, but since July 2013 it’s a Grade II listed building. Cue angry tweets.
LAKANAL HOUSE, CAMBERWELL
Unfortunately, this tower block became well-known for all the wrong reasons. In one of the worst fires in recent British history, a huge blaze at Lakanal House in 2009 killed six people, including three children, and injured 20. It later turned out that there had been no clear fire exits, rescue services were slow, and an inquest showed that the deaths “could have been prevented”.
HEYGATE ESTATE, ELEPHANT AND CASTLE
Before its demolition began in 2011, this sprawling 3000-person estate experienced a gradual deterioration. The Telegraph called it “crime-ridden and dilapidated”, and it acquired the nickname ‘Muggers’ Paradise’. It was used as an example of “urban decay” in World War Z, Attack the Block, Luther, Harry Brown, and episodes of The Bill.
UNNAMED TOWER BLOCK, ELEPHANT AND CASTLE
It hasn’t even been built yet, but this 41-storey tower block has already incurred the wrath of Ministry of Sound. The apartments and affordable housing will be built right next to the nightclub, and its owners are concerned that noise complaints will force it to be shut. Plans are being made to soundproof the entire tower block.
ST ALPHAGE HOUSE, CITY OF LONDON
This 1960s office block is huge, uninhabited, bleak-looking and “almost evil”. In 2009 the City of London Corporation called for the building to be “stripped out” for tax reasons. Several attempts have been made at redevelopment, but it continues to stand, like an albatross, in the centre of London’s financial district.
Robert Glowacki's Towers of London is out now.
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