Housing 1600-2000

Tower blocks, Gorbals, Glasgow

Gorbals tower block_530x639

Tower blocks, Gorbals, Glasgow
Architect: Sir Basil Spence (1960-1966)
Photograph: Henk Snoek (1954)
Source: RIBA British Architectural Library Photographs Collection

Sir Basil Spence (1907-76), is best known as the architect of Coventry Cathedral (1956-62) and various university campuses. Most are appreciated as distinguished works of post-war architecture. Spence’s work in Glasgow, replacing the squalid tenements of the Gorbals with flats, however, has not fared so well. 

The authors of the Buildings of Scotland remark that these flats are: ‘Powerful as a silhouette, elevation and detail, but brutal as an environment.’ Perhaps this is what Snoek intended to show in this captivating image. Spence’s sculptural sense is clear; the deep shadows cast by the block’s chunky balconies give a feeling of the sublime. The textured concrete, moulded by wood shuttering, further accentuates this. However, effects on this scale seem inhuman: does this explain Snoek’s inclusion of the young boy?

Since this photograph was taken, estates like this have become notorious, undergoing countless makeovers to reform them. At Hutchesontown, pitched roofs were added to the top of the tower-blocks, altogether contrary to Spence’s strong horizontals. Subsequently they were demolished, something that the photograph’s playful angle seems to foresee.


About the online exhibition

'How We Built Britain' is a major collaboration with the BBC


Images in the exhibition are from RIBApix, a growing database dedicated to providing you with exceptional and unique images from the RIBA British Architectural Library's collections.

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