Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Demolition file

Gavin Stamp has a quite delightful piece in this week's TLS about Ian Gow's Scotland's Lost Houses, which sounds to me like a total must-read (here's the Amazon link--expensive but surely it's worth it, I have just ordered a copy for a person I know who is its perfect target audience):

I have only once witnessed the sudden destruction of a building. This was in 1993 when Glasgow decided to remove some of the catastrophically flawed public-housing blocks in the rebuilt Gorbals, by means of high explosives. Tower blocks in the East End of London had already been blown up, to the delight of local residents and television companies; now it was Glasgow’s turn. Typically, the Council had chosen to destroy with fanfare the only such structures in the city which were of any conceivable architectural merit: the powerfully monumental Brutalist slabs forming Queen Elizabeth Square in Hutchesontown designed by the firm of Sir Basil Spence (a Scot) in 1960. A public spectacle was organized, rather like a public hanging, and down they came in a series of controlled explosions. Unfortunately, the blasts were less controlled than intended and a woman spectator was killed by flying masonry. Glasgow then decided to conduct future demolitions more discreetly.

The question must arise as to whether the Scots take a peculiar delight in blowing up buildings, in addition to simply demolishing them. That, at least, was the conclusion reached by Marcus Binney, John Harris and Emma Winnington when they compiled the report on the Lost Houses of Scotland produced by SAVE Britain’s Heritage in 1980. “Scotland seems to have specialised in dynamiting its houses. Scottish sappers and lairds delighted in making a thunderous bang.” This publication was a sequel to the momentous Destruction of the Country House exhibition mounted at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1974 by Roy Strong, Binney and Harris, for it had revealed how very many houses had been destroyed in Scotland – a much higher proportion in relation to their number than in England. Over 400 substantial country houses had disappeared since 1900; a few had perished through accidental fire, but most had been deliberately destroyed.

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