Building Tower Blocks - The Technological Fix

Hall Tower
Paddington Green

In 1961 the London census predictions were horrific. By AD 2010 the population would double. Where were they to be housed? The governments of this period hoped for a quick 'technological fix' which would solve the housing problem and halt the clamour for homes.

High-rise flats seemed to be the answer. Many people could be housed at high density in a small area. It seemed reasonable to build blocks of flats of large, pre-cast slabs, bring them by lorry to the site and fix them together like Leggo. Very modern and efficient. It appealed to the spirit of the age.

Architects talked of "standing a village on edge", of "talking across from balcony to balcony", of "new living for the New Man". Some people, mainly the single unmarried and those with no children, liked them. Others hated them. Children had nowhere safe to play. Lifts were too small, too slow, failed to work and were dirty. There was noise. People were lonely in the crowd. No flat had its own 'territory'. Some flats were badly built; condensation inside flats due to cold concrete bridges bringing in cold from outside, was a particular problem: lifts broke down and were vandalized. As is well known, some tower blocks in this country and abroad, have had to be blown up because nobody would live in them. The demolition of tower blocks became television spectaculars.

Tower blocks have become unpopular with families with children, yet 60°% of families have no children. There are ten times as many childless, or single-person households as there are flats in towers. Rescued from vandalism by entry-phones, from condensation by cladding and double glazing, and heating costs being included in the rent, some tower blocks have become popular. Trellick Tower, Erno Goldfinger's listed building on the Harrow Road, is a case in point.

Local tower blocks have often been given names which stretch back hundreds of years. In Paddington, Hall Tower was named after the Hall Farm which was on the Bishop of London' Estate, while Parson's House recalls its Parsonage Farm. Built in the 1960s, open to wind and weather, Parson's House was re-cladded in the 1980s with thick insulation and grey panels to increase warmth and cut out the condensation which was almost universal with these 1960s buildings. On all sides, red vertical mullions separate the panels and give support to the cladding, while at the top is the red girder crown to carry the cleaning cradles. This splendid red hat seems worthy of a cardinal, rather than the simple village parson who used to live below.


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Updated October 19, 2011