Sunday, 8 February 2009

Utopia/Dystopia - Social Housing Schemes

I looked at some of the big social housing schemes that started with great utopian ideals. The Hutchieson blocks in the gorbals in Glasgow, were designed by Sir Basil Spence to replace existing slums. Designed in 1959 and occupied in 1965 they consisted of 10 tower blocks linked by green space in a 15 acre space. His style of architecture was called ‘ brutalism’ and the buildings suffered from poor construction, maintenance, crime and vandalism and were demolished in 1993 - utopia turned to distopia. Byker wall in Newcastle is another famous social housing scheme designed by Ralph Erskine and built in the mid 1970s. Described as a pioneering social development, it received many awards and was listed in 2007. There are both positive and negative reports of this community - good community spirit and activities but also problems with drugs, vandalism and crime, which cause people to move away and start a downward spiral, so not quite the Utopia hoped for. I felt sure there were some successful schemes on the continent. I found one – Tinggaarden in Denmark, which was the first rental cohousing scheme. In 1971 the Danish Building Institute sponsored a competition for low rise cluster housing and the first residents moved in in 1976. Groups of apartments are built in clusters around communal areas. Its success has led to other schemes both private and rental and the government has made the funding process easier. As the schemes have evolved occupants have wanted smaller personal areas and greater communal facilities – so it does seem to have achieved a sort of Utopia and certainly looks a pleasant place to live.

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