Often lambasted as ‘eye-sores’ or criticised for their speedy construction – the high-rise apartment block has, nevertheless, become an integral part of most modern cities’ skyline.
Sometimes being home to over a thousand people at a time, they range from the ugliest of grey monoliths to the most elegant of glass towers. Some of them grant views of entire cities, whilst others are simply dark holes – modern man’s cave systems, complete with paintings and whole cultures.
One side of the coin is recent construction, The Shard – an example of million-pound investment resulting in, what is now, the tallest buildings in London. Taking 3 years to complete, the building was opened in February 2013 and is now home to 72 floors of offices, residential suites – as well as the UK operations of Al Jazeera. Standing at over 300m tall, the building cost well over £400 million to contract and is almost completely owned by the State of Qatar.
Despite the building’s questionable origins, it has largely become accepted, in a city that celebrates any successful building that brings in tourism. However, one can’t help but wonder if the millions of pounds that it will generate in the coming decades will ever be seen by the thousands of Londoners already living within their own High Rises.
Although Britain was amongst one of the latest cultures to adopt the high-rise apartment, once the idea was accepted – many were invested in on a large-scale. Replacing the expensive and grand townhouses of the 18th and 19th Century, the grey concrete towers of the 20th Century were easy and cheap to erect – allowing England to create inexpensive accommodation for it’s post-war population.
In the bomb-shattered capital, apartment blocks were quickly constructed to replace the decimated terraces that had come before them. By the time of the 2011 Census it was estimated that over 50% of all accommodation in London was comprised of apartment blocks. However, the tower blocks that dominated 21st Century London, were not the symbols of success and affluence that their creators would have hoped.
Within these monotone blocks – conflict, anger and resentment began to breed amongst it’s captive population. Why was it that people residing in these buildings resorted to petty crime, leaving the innocent parties as witnesses to a multitude of crimes each day?
Without realising it, the planning developers and architects of the 20th Century had created what would become the crime-ridden ghettos of the modern age. Trapped within the confines of concrete and glass, beaten down by poor Education and punishing taxes – the struggling population of London’s apartment blocks became the living embodiment of Orwell’s downtrodden proletariat. Unable to affect change in their grey lives, ruled by the screens of Big Brother and constantly being watched on CCTV.
Nearly 50 years after the construction of these early tower blocks in the UK, many of these buildings have already become like relics of the past – beaten and bruised over the decades, they stand – waiting for their inevitable demolition.