Page last updated at 16:50 GMT, Monday, 28 December 2009

Mapping the end of the Red Road flats

By Pauline McLean
BBC Scotland arts correspondent

A project which aims to document the history of Glasgow's Red Road flats is under way.

All eight tower blocks will be demolished in a phased programme which will start in the spring - but first, Glasgow Museums hope to gather stories and memories of the buildings and the thousands of people who lived there.

Red Road flats
The flats were the tallest in Europe at the time they were built

For Mark O'Neill, director of Glasgow Museums, the impending demolition of Glasgow's Red Road flats is akin to the demolition of the Egyptian pyramids.

"Some of these flats are higher than the Egyptian pyramids and in the next few years they'll all disappear one by one," he said.

"It's a huge transformation of the Glasgow skyline."

And while it's hard to see them on the same cultural terms as the pyramids, it's true these eight tower blocks have had a huge impact on the physical and cultural landscape of the city.

That has included the film Red Road - which brought the area to the attention of the Cannes Film Festival in 2006 - and the heart-stopping tightrope walk between two of the blocks undertaken by Frenchman Didier Pasquette in 2007.

But it's the ordinary, rather than the extraordinary, which Culture and Sport Glasgow is anxious to capture.

Martin Wright, who is documenting the history of the flats, said the aim was to look at everyday life.

He said they were looking for "those who've lived there, brought up families there, had day-to-day life there over the years.

"High-rise living is coming to an end and it's important we share that with the generations to come."

Mark O'Neill
Mark O'Neill lived in the flats in the 1980s

Constructed in the 1960s, the Red Road flats were at the time the tallest in Europe and, unusually for social housing, had steel structures.

Tenants who had previously stayed in tenement flats joined waiting lists for spacious new flats, with spectacular views and great local amenities.

But like many tower blocks, the Red Road flats soon lost their shine.

In the mid-80s the properties were badly maintained and - in the days before the concierge system - they left tenants feeling isolated and insecure.

Mark O'Neill is more aware than most of the flats' problems. He lived there when he first moved to Glasgow in the 1980s.

"The most amazing thing was the contrast between the inside and the outside," he recalled.

"Inside, they were beautiful. Most people really cared about their flats and kept them beautifully.

"But outside, they were grim. More often than not, the lifts didn't work, and you had to walk up the stairs which was a bit wearing when, like me, you lived on the 23rd floor.

"It was the same thing you saw in many other tower blocks - great people, terrible environment."

Red Road flats
The demolition of the flats is set to begin next spring

Martin Wright said he was aware there would be bad memories as well as good, but said his project was keen to hear both sides of the story.

"There will be positive and negative but we do want to hear both. That's part of the story."

Janet Callender, 85, lived in the flats for 17 years but last year she and her daughter moved into a house in the shadow of the tower blocks.

"There's a better sense of community here," she said.

"In the flats you only ever saw each other at the lifts, but here you see each other all the time and a lot of my neighbours from the flats are round about me.

"It will be sad, though, to see them come down. I first moved here in the 1960s and it was just an empty space.

"I saw them go up. It's quite sad to see them come back down again."

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