Fifty years ago there
were no high-rise buildings in London. Until, in May 1949, a
ten-storey council housing block opened in Holborn. Since then
around 2700 tower blocks have been built in Greater London,
and the capital's skyline is constantly changing.
Tower blocks were
seen as the way to build a better future in the 1950s and 1960s.
But the 1968 Ronan Point gas explosion - when a corner of a
22-storey tower collapsed killing five people - heralded an
anti-tower block backlash. In 1972 the Barbican Estate was completed
boasting the highest tower in Europe; by the mid-1970s, however,
high-rise building came to a halt as doubts were thrown on construction
methods and the social consequences of poor quality building.
In the 1980s council
towers began to be demolished, whilst some private towers started
to appear. Now in the 1990s tower blocks are back on London's
housing scene, as new blocks begin to thrust through the skyline
and old blocks are given a second chance. In 1993 the first
tower block was listed, and in 1998 a rash of high-rise luxury
housing towers was proposed along both banks of the Thames.
Tower Blocks: love
them or loathe them? includes scale models of key buildings,
a huge map highlighting our 'top fifty' of London's high-rise
housing blocks, and examples of modern design inspired by tower
block imagery; it also gives voice to the residents themselves.
In the Museum's foyer Tower Blocks: the artist's view (until
4 July) is a complementary exhibition showing contemporary artists'
and photographers' response to these monumental post-war edifices.
Tower Blocks: love
them or loathe them? poses questions which affect the daily
lives of Londoners. What should happen to London's problem tower
blocks - should we do them up or blow them up? Is there a place
for tower blocks as desirable residences? Will the proposed
new towers give London dramatic landmark buildings or will they
hem in the river?