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Architects rally behind Wyndford tower blocks

January 4 2023

Architects rally behind Wyndford tower blocks

Moves to level a tower block quartet in Maryhill's Wyndford estate have been challenged by architects citing the environmental cost of demolition and reconstruction.

Architects Kate Macintosh and Alan Dunlop are leading calls for Wheatley Homes to grant a reprieve to the condemned blocks, arguing that carbon costs should be factored into the estate's regeneration.

The social landlord is proposing to sweep aside 600 high flats, of which just 120 are occupied, in a £54m regeneration initiative that will include 300 low-rise new build homes.

In a protest letter lodged with Glasgow City Council Macintosh, well regarded for her contributions to British public architecture, cited an environmental protection report commissioned by Wyndford Housing Association which found that replacement would result in '46% higher emissions than retrofitting.'

For its part, Wheatley has ruled out renovation as uneconomic, arguing that new build homes are better able to meet modern energy efficiency standards  


On the Wynd up
#1 Posted by On the Wynd up on 4 Jan 2023 at 11:55 AM
Commendable efforts from Kate and Allan. These estates fail on technical and urban principles, both of which we have the ability to resolve cheaply and effectively. Removing the existing facades and applying new modern-spec finishes (or adding new accommodation a-la Grand Parc) makes these apartments measurably more attractive to residents. Using the dead space on the site by adding new 4-8 storey housing at ground level and making streets anchored by pubs, libraries, shops, community centres etc. would make a meaningful urban fabric that connects to the site's context instead of closing it out. Glasgow City Council have shown a willingness to work with these towers (see Collective's retrofit of Cedar Court at Woodside), it'd be fantastic to see a real commitment to finally fulfilling the promise of post-war thinking.
#2 Posted by Roddy_ on 4 Jan 2023 at 14:22 PM
I very much agree that the blocks need to be refurbished, but they also need to be made responsive and that means capturing the towers in perimeter blocks with active edges that define defensible spaces. Pretty much the opposite of the Corbusian ‘green carpet’, with objects floating in the landscape. Is this what Alan Dunlop and co are calling for?
Pronouncements to date seem to call for the ‘purity’of form to be maintained together along with all the other things that make Modernist planning substandard.
#3 Posted by HMR on 4 Jan 2023 at 16:41 PM
They are no role as social housing, get them down and back to traditionally planned streets
James Hepburn
#4 Posted by James Hepburn on 4 Jan 2023 at 16:51 PM
You won't find any 'architects' living in these flats. Certainly notKate McIntosh or Alan Dunlop.
Jimbob Tanktop
#5 Posted by Jimbob Tanktop on 4 Jan 2023 at 17:22 PM
#1 No harm, but "pubs, libraries, shops, community centres etc." have all been in serious decline now for decades, so your anchors would essentially end up being a desert of unoccupied units.
#6 Posted by Alex on 4 Jan 2023 at 17:51 PM
Why can a tower block not be a good place to live if it is well managed? These towers provide a
large number of homes, are near public transport, spacious flats, views of the city, sculptural look too. They could be modernised, renewable energy/ heat fitted and tied into new street blocks alongside new low rise family housing, local businesses and a well designed park.
Neil C
#7 Posted by Neil C on 4 Jan 2023 at 20:10 PM
My ex girlfriend lived in Wyndford and I visited often. The flats could and should be kept. They sit on piloti above now a very mature and tree filled landscape. The reference to Corb and I guess to Unite seems very appropriate therefor to me. Well done Kate Macintosh and Alan Dunlop. More power to you and to the residents.
#8 Posted by James on 5 Jan 2023 at 11:15 AM
Did the existing residents not overwhelmingly vote to demolish the properties?
I also don't see any mention from the retain camp of the practicalities of refurbishing the existing properties to meet modern living standards or what the extended lifespan of the buildings would be, if they were refurbished? I would be genuinely interested to know what the answers are to these questions.
#9 Posted by modernish on 5 Jan 2023 at 12:33 PM
Alternative headline - "Leafy south coast of England and National Park residents object, to well meaning RSL's proposals to improve the lives of their residents, from the comfort of their study's to kill time whilst their Barolo breathes"
Jimbob Tanktop
#10 Posted by Jimbob Tanktop on 5 Jan 2023 at 13:53 PM
As a former resident of a tower block, there's one thing missing from this nostalgic notion to salvage them: as places to live, they are utterly, utterly grim. The soundproofing is awful; they feed agoraphobia and anxiety; the lifts are wholly unreliable, presenting a horrifying obstacle for those with mobility issues and the elderly; every short trip to buy a carton of milk is transmogrified into an epic expedition and the lack of life at the ground level leads to them becoming a haunt for anti-social behaviour as do the stairwells.

For those suggesting these issues can be fixed; all of your solutions will require money and maintenance and whenever there's a squeeze in public spending - which has been an endless jamboree since the credit crunch broke the country 15 years ago - the first people to suffer will be those living in tower blocks. They're vertical ghettos, loved by those who would never consider living there and who view humans as a sequence of data.
Neil C
#11 Posted by Neil C on 5 Jan 2023 at 14:07 PM
That's just rubbish Jimbob. Many, including my mum and dad aged now 78 and 76 live in a high rise and love it.
#12 Posted by Heidfirst on 5 Jan 2023 at 15:01 PM
Can anybody explain why the private housing sector are able to sell (apparently with little difficulty) flats in tower blocks for ££££ (esp. in other countries) with the top flats often being the dearest yet there is no demand in social housing here? My sister used to work at a very senior level in a large Scottish social housing company & said that their "clients" did not want to live in a building with more than 4-6 floors.
#13 Posted by DAS on 5 Jan 2023 at 15:04 PM
#9 and #10 - Absolutely 100% agreed. I also grew up in a tower block (in East London) and I remember acutely how suffocating and overbearing it felt. Of course, we're not the only ones who feel this way. It's a tale as old as the tower blocks themselves:

Say it
#14 Posted by Say it on 6 Jan 2023 at 09:53 AM
Couldn't agree more with #4 and #10.

Those trying to save them will never have to deal with the reality of living in them. Whilst a few may have positive experiences, largely these buildings come with a host of problems.
Neil C
#15 Posted by Neil C on 6 Jan 2023 at 11:56 AM
Great to see so many new names adding negatively to the debate. I hope not all are from GHA.
Again very well done to Kate and Alan. These are important buildings that can be saved. Good luck
#16 Posted by Lovely on 6 Jan 2023 at 14:51 PM
The destruction of the towers might be more palatable if they were being replaced with good tenement streets and green areas alongside.

However, the proposal at 300 'low rise' units will seemingly be a sprawl of sub urban scale housing in an inner city area. At least 600 units of (very much needed) housing at the correct density would be easily possible without going over 4 or 5 storeys, with lower energy consumption and heating bills as well.

Am 50/50 on this whole debate but perhaps this would better justify the level of destruction needed to remove the towers?
#17 Posted by George on 6 Jan 2023 at 16:20 PM
#10 fully agree. The fact that they are only 20% occupied, the equivalent of 3 out of 4 of them being empty tells its own story, get them down.
#18 Posted by Andy on 6 Jan 2023 at 16:55 PM
I wonder where this polar opposing opinion comes from? The world is full of successful high rise residential towers, but as soon as we are talking about social housing tower blocks it becomes a negative identity. Is it a lack of amenity, no sense of ownership, location - not prime city locations, is it a perception problem (especially in Glasgow)? From the outside looking in, it looks like place making and identity are the biggest problems, both of which could be fixed by high quality design solutions either retaining the towers or not.
Jimbob Tanktop
#19 Posted by Jimbob Tanktop on 6 Jan 2023 at 17:07 PM
I'm genuinely glad your parents love living in a tower block, Neil. That, however, simply wasn't the experience of either myself or the vast majority of my neighbours.

It only takes one anti-social tenant or visitor to urinate in the lift to ruin the day of 300 people. It only takes one bored teenager to break a window in the entrance foyer to ruin 100 homes. One broken security door leaves 100 homes vulnerable. It only takes one party house to ruin the lives of neighbours from ten floors.

#12 - The inherent problems of high-rise dwellings aren't exclusive to social housing. Google 432 Park Avenue NYC and the New York Times will tell you this about the $125m building: "The condo board at 432 Park Avenue is suing the developers for construction and design defects that have led to floods, faulty elevators, and electrical explosions." And they don't have anti-social behaviour or the budget concerns of a housing association to deal with.
Neil C
#20 Posted by Neil C on 6 Jan 2023 at 17:36 PM
With respect Jimbob, your bad experience living in a high flat, nor my parents very good experience has no relevance at all in this matter. You quote anti social tenants or bored teenagers as proof, that is a management and society issue, nothing to do with high rise development as a viable building proposition recognised all over the world for residences as homes and good places for people to live. To quote construction issues from a building condo in the USA as proof that high rise living does not work is bizarre.

# 18 I suspect those posting here for the first time so negatively have interest they wish to protect.

Keep going Wyndford people
Jimbob Tanktop
#21 Posted by Jimbob Tanktop on 6 Jan 2023 at 19:09 PM
Lived experience in a type of home has no relevance in the experience of living in that type of home? In that, we disagree.

The 'bizarre' construction issues of a failed American high rise were in direct response to a previous commenter asking why high-cost high rises worked elsewhere in the world. But you knew that.

Also, those commenting positively here have their own interest they wish to protect. I have none. I'm just one of those naive folk who think homes should be comfortable for their inhabitants.

The attitudes you and certain others here display sound akin to Sir Basil Spence, visiting Hutchesontown C a year after the first tenants moved in and being appalled to find that people - actual, living, breathing people and not figures drawn on a piece of paper - had committed such aesthetic crimes as putting up pink net curtains.

I'm not being entirely facetious. You mention 'management and society issues', to which I would say two things: low-rise buildings only need managing by those who live there. Every problem can be managed away provided the manager has a big enough stick. I hate to break this to you, but management can often be underpaid, demotivated and frankly, lousy.

Secondly, every issue can be explained away by mentioning the thought-ending cliché of 'society problems'. If living in a type of home is dependent upon wholly restructuring society then maybe it's the wrong sort of architectural response to the society in which we live. As opposed to the pink net-curtain-free utopia imagined by Sir Basil and his present-day acolytes.
Neil C
#22 Posted by Neil C on 7 Jan 2023 at 09:05 AM
I glanced at this Jimbob, thought for a second of replying then saw something about pink net curtains and realised you are not to be taken seriously. So, we'll leave it at that.
Fat Bloke on Tour
#23 Posted by Fat Bloke on Tour on 7 Jan 2023 at 17:48 PM
All the issues out in full view -- current HA focus is tear it down and replace with today's current hot issue / design.

Nothing about improvement / renovation / better building management -- just a case of tear it down and start again.

600 units coming down to be replaced by half the number -- where does that leave Glesga PLC?

Student housing crisis in the city less than months ago and all the chat is tear them down.

The base point with social housing is that without tenant management / support all forms of housing will fail. All the chat of the lived experience of the multis in the past points to a neo Thatcherite view of being scared fartless by your neighbours and the only solution to a lack of social cohesion is separation.

Work the numbers -- 300 new units is a a £60/70mill build cost on top of an expensive demolition phase.

What is the opportunity cost of spending this amount of money tearing down older units and then only replacing half of them rather than an expansion of the social housing estate in other areas?

We have plenty of ghost streets than need rebuilding.

600 units on a low cost rent of £500 per month is a £3.6mill annual income stream.

More than enough money to refurbish the units and offer a proper / working housing management plan to deliver a quality housing experience.

The money is there -- if the HA cannot deliver it then it might be that the management needs replacing and not the houses themselves.

If the usual suspects continue to cause bother then I am sure that a container could be made available to meeting their basic shelter requirements.

Fat Bloke on Tour
#24 Posted by Fat Bloke on Tour on 7 Jan 2023 at 18:04 PM
Interesting the high octane negativity of people who have lived in "a high rise" and not these flats in particular.

Not a good look -- not really taking this particular issue forward.
G Man
#25 Posted by G Man on 9 Jan 2023 at 12:34 PM
Must be a grand life heating up a concrete box that doesn't retain heat when we get harsh winters. Maybe Glasgow and Carbon footprint don't blend very well going by the pleas to save these buildings which is the same sentiment people had prior to the demolition of other blocks around the city. For the record, I have never lived in a multi-storey and I feel sorry for the people who do live in them and are trapped in an existence where a lot of money is spent in extortionate electric heating for buildings which do not retain heat.
#26 Posted by modernish on 9 Jan 2023 at 15:47 PM
@23 - the refurb costs would be very significant. Grand Parc in Bordeaux was mentioned previously. Leaving aside the significantly different climatic conditions between the cities (the Bordeaux scheme never altered the building performance just added some unheated winter gardens) that scheme cost 50,000 Euro per flat in 2016 (basically £50k given the exchange rate), figures from the EU Mies award website. Hold that thought.
If you have a look at Wheatley Groups financials they have have approx 70% costs compared to rental income (includes maintenance, bad debt, management costs etc..). So of the £500 a month you suggested there is £150 profit, assuming we can ringfence it for Wyndford. If we crudely take the 50k per flat cost for the work the work at Grand Parc the payback period at £150p/m is 27-28 years. Add into that financing costs and the significant inflation experienced in the construction sector in the last few years and you are probably looking more at 30-35 years (35 years would be £63k per flat which doesn't sound too far fetched).
The question is therefore a simple economic one; are these structures worth a 35 year investment? Can Wheatley guarantee 100% occupancy? If they get 95% occupancy, out of 600 units that wouldn't be bad, the payback period goes up to almost 37 years.
So are these 4 big blocks worth a 35 year investment which may, or may not, be successful? I'll let you form your own view. If i was being asked to approve a 35 year punt on these i'd say no thanks let's take them down and build back something that we know our residents want and we can deliver.
Neil C
#27 Posted by Neil C on 9 Jan 2023 at 16:35 PM
No one is asking you #26, whoever you are, least of all the residents who want to remain in their homes.
#28 Posted by modernish on 9 Jan 2023 at 17:04 PM
@27 - bit of an off hand response. Usually means that you've read a reasonable point you don't want to/can't engage with. Is that a trigger for you?
To be fair no one is asking you either.
I thought this was a forum to discuss ideas the positive and negative aspects of them. The economics of the situation play a significant part in decision making. If that upsets you i'm sorry.
On the Wynd up
#29 Posted by On the Wynd up on 10 Jan 2023 at 10:15 AM
@26 The finances of social housing in general aren't particularly inspiring. Look more closely at the Grand Parc project and you'll see that L&V's proposal cost around 30% of the front-running knock down and rebuild proposal from before they got involved. That's with their flashy, highly bespoke design solution; state-run upgrade programs in Belguim and the Netherlands are turning over similar buildings at a much reduced cost, although the projects aren't quite as headline grabbing. Even Cedar court, which is less than 2km away from wyndford, has been massively improved with very simple intervention, and the POE carried out by the HA and Collective show that the people living there are incredibly happy to do so.

Moreover, the L&V proposal matter-of-factly improved the thermal performance of the blocks. The wintergardens take in heat during the day which is absorbed it into the high-thermal-mass concrete wall which used to be the facade. When the rooms on either side get colder than the wall, the heat is released back into them via the thermal windmill effect. POE Has shown measurable reduction in use of heating as a result.

Now, don't get me wrong, I don't think using solaria would work as the exclusive thermal management solution in sunny Glasgow, it works at Grand parc because Nice gets 2-3 times as many solar hours per year as we do. The point I'm trying to make is that there are cost effective solutions to materially improving both the spatial and technical characteristics of these towers, and that we should be looking to them first.

@25, @20, etc. that last sentence is the crux of the matter. I doubt any of the people chiming in on the side of the towers want to preserve the towers, graffiti and all, and stuff them full of people.
Fat Bloke on Tour
#30 Posted by Fat Bloke on Tour on 10 Jan 2023 at 15:09 PM
mod @ #24

Tired old school thinking / economic calculus -- middle class welfare to the management grades of the HA sector springs to mind.

Along with obtuse / perverse market incentives that drive HA managements to demolish and rebuild rather than conserve and restore.

Your numbers do not engage with the marginal position of this specific project -- 70% running costs for property management is a horrible / bloated figure that points to institutional waste and inefficiency.

Running a large part of your estate at 20% occupancy when there is a large and growing shortage of low rent units points to either bad management or hidden agendas -- neither is good.

What world £5K spend deliver for each individual flat -- lift the rent up towards £600 per month and 90% occupancy?

What is the current student rent in the city -- £100 / £125 per week for a half decent room?

Plenty of opportunities to sweat the assets if the HA was that was inclined?

What would a £5K per unit spend deliver for each block -- improved lifts and cladding?

We have a shortage of housing units in Glesga -- why should the HA sector pull down 600 units and replace them with 300 newbuilds on a live site?

Huge opportunity cost here -- Why not rebuild some of the ghost streets that haunt the east and the north of the city?

I fear that the HA nomenklatura see management as hard and ribbon cutting as easy.

#31 Posted by modernish on 10 Jan 2023 at 16:31 PM
@30 - the 70% figure comes straight from Wheatley's financials. You might not like it, but that is the reality of the costs they will be using to make a decision.
Rent increase? Well not this year and never again if the Greens manage to keep exerting their control over the government.
If there is a housing shortage in Glasgow, how would 'sweating the assest' by making it student accommodation help?
A £5k spend for each flat; well that add's up to £3M, but given there are 4 blocks by the time you've upgraded the lifts you might get a lick of paint. Unless you use some fancy mega insulating paint then you've achieved next to nothing apart from wasting 3 million quid and providing a maintenance contractor with £300k profit.
If it was as easy as you are suggesting that would be the what they would be doing.
Neil C
#32 Posted by Neil C on 10 Jan 2023 at 17:29 PM
Well researched #31, you've clearly a lot of time on your hands. I thought this was a portal for people interested in and a passion for architecture and design not "Accountancy Weekly" or Quantity Surveyors R Us. Sub heading, "Knowing the Cost of Everything and Value of Nothing" There are people living here and wish to remain. These are important buildings, part of a strong, focused community. So, keep going residents, and well done Kate and Alan. More power to you. It's not about bottom line economics, of should not be. It is easy but they are still going ahead with destruction.
Bill Cunningham
#33 Posted by Bill Cunningham on 10 Jan 2023 at 17:34 PM
"modernish" how appropriate! You have just set out a narrative for every low end developer in Glasgow and every sh+t project in the city
#34 Posted by Modernish on 10 Jan 2023 at 21:34 PM
@32- it took about 2 minutes to look through the Wheatley group financials. Being informed about the decision making process leading to an organisation decision is sensible. Just because you ‘really want something’ or ‘wish’ something might work on the x-factor or fairy hunting but in the real world the bottom line is important. It’s not the be all and end all, but if you ignore it you can get used to being disappointed. The few people left living there might well wish to remain, but is it really fair to the other Wheatley residents and government grants to subsidise these blocks to let them follow their dreams? The fact of the matter is the buildings are owned by someone other than the residents so it’s a decision outside their control.
I’m terms of architectural passion, these buildings are uninspiring and derivative. Far better examples of the style have been lost and being the ‘last man standing’ is hardly reason to celebrate them. Interestingly you seem happy with Kate Macintosh’s argument which is an exercise in retrospective carbon accountancy rather than architecture or design. Odd that.
@33- thanks bill, I take it the Christmas card never arrived then. If you give Wheatley a call and tell them you are happy to put your money where your mouth is and stump up the cash to retain and redevelop the site they’ll be over the moon.
#35 Posted by modernish on 11 Jan 2023 at 09:14 AM
@30 - the 70% figure comes straight from Wheatley's financials. You might not like it, but that is the reality of the costs they will be using to make a decision.
Rent increase? Well not this year and never again if the Greens manage to keep exerting their control over the government.
If there is a housing shortage in Glasgow, how would 'sweating the assest' by making it student accommodation help?
A £5k spend for each flat; well that add's up to £3M, but given there are 4 blocks by the time you've upgraded the lifts you might get a lick of paint. Unless you use some fancy mega insulating paint then you've achieved next to nothing apart from wasting 3 million quid and providing a maintenance contractor with £300k profit.
If it was as easy as you are suggesting that would be the what they would be doing.
Fat Bloke on Tour
#36 Posted by Fat Bloke on Tour on 11 Jan 2023 at 12:29 PM
mod @ #35

Your 70% figure is open to question -- specifically what does it actually relate to? Does it include planned repairs / upgrades and what relevance does it have to the management and operation of the 600 units up for demolition?

600 homes = 1.5% of the WH / Glesga aka GHA current housing stock. 39K units under GHA control s the most recent figure I could find.

WH / Glesga -- have a target of building 400 new units pa but recent figures point to 300 units pa.

New lifts -- current figure is £350K per tower to replace them / see recent work at Townhead.

This level of spend would allow other common upgrades to be afforded.

Sweating the assets = using what you have rather than letting them rot with a 20% occupancy rate.

Using them as student flats means that fewer units on the general market are transitioned to student occupancy by the monied middle class for their sprogs -- leading to less upward pressure on rents and house prices.

Basic economics.

Housing management is easy if you don't have a hidden agenda / a predilection for cutting ribbons / an ego the size of Jupiter.

By all means spend the £54mill on newbuilds -- just a case that there are a lot of ghost streets in the north and east of the city that need re-populating -- not pulling down serviceable units and replacing them with half the current numbers.

If nobody wants to live in these towers then you need to ask questions about the housing / tenant management effort on display.
Fat Bloke on Tour
#37 Posted by Fat Bloke on Tour on 11 Jan 2023 at 12:36 PM
mod @ #34

One of the most disgusting statements I have ever heard regarding the position of the existing tenants in these blocks -- you wrote:

"The fact of the matter is the buildings are owned by someone other than the residents so it’s a decision outside their control."

Am I under a misapprehension that these blocks are social housing?

You sound like Calmac with this level of stuff the public / stuff the customer rhetoric -- we in our exec homes faraway know what is best for the little people.

Not good.
#38 Posted by modernish on 11 Jan 2023 at 15:31 PM
@37 - easy to spout nonsense and then be disgusted by reality.
Fat Bloke on Tour
#39 Posted by Fat Bloke on Tour on 11 Jan 2023 at 16:27 PM
mod @ #38

You need to do better than that.

Your sneering superiority towards a group of social housing tenants would shame even the most hardened Tenement Tory.

And then there is the base point -- why spend big on a project that will lose the city 300 dwellings when so many ghost streets exist nearby and need re-populating?

A ribbon would still be available for cutting.
Bill Cunningham
#40 Posted by Bill Cunningham on 11 Jan 2023 at 17:13 PM
Christmas card? The folded foolscap with the hand drawn tree in coloured biro, marked please return.
Are you really Tam Mullen, modernish?
#41 Posted by modernish on 12 Jan 2023 at 09:34 AM
@39 - your faux outrage is a tad tedious. The position when a number of residents are being subsidised by everyone else isn't sustainable. Tenement tory v keyboard komsomol discuss?
Wyndford Lass
#42 Posted by Wyndford Lass on 12 Jan 2023 at 10:09 AM
Modernish? Is that the indifferent Tam Mullen who works for Glasgow HA and wants to evict me from my home without consultation and after seventeen years or the money grapping, miser from still game. Could be either?
Fat Bloke on Tour
#43 Posted by Fat Bloke on Tour on 12 Jan 2023 at 11:13 AM
mod @ #41

No faux outrage -- just incredulity at the current plans to replace these towers.

Opportunity cost of the newbuilds plus the reduction of the total city housing stock by 300 units is HA ego tripping on a colossal scale / gone mad -- that dog just don't hunt in fact that dog is a vegetarian.

Why won't WH/G aka the GHA spend the £54mill rebuilding the ghost streets of north and east Glasgow?

Or is the proximity of the site to the Botanics driving pound signs towards a lazy management?

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