Residential towers are on the rise again as the industry addresses sustainability, fire and overheating issues
High-rise living in the UK has consistently divided opinion and, despite its recent resurgence, remains heavily debated as a viable family residence, especially in light of events like the Grenfell tragedy. With soaring land prices in inner cities and ever-increasing demand for homes, tall residential must surely be part of the solution to the housing crisis, but only if it can provide homes that are safe, secure, affordable and generous in their space, amenity and public realm.
The origins of high-rise residential in the UK can be traced back to the 1950s with a nod to Le Corbusier’s “streets in the sky” principles. The idea of creating communities and interaction through large-scale above-ground circulation and amenity spaces was first adopted on the Park Hill estate in Sheffield in the late 1950s. It was seen as the future of social housing delivery and an efficient method of postwar slum clearance to meet growing demand for new homes.
This approach opened the door to an era of brutalist architecture, with notable examples being the iconic Trellick and Balfron towers, both designed by Erno Goldfinger in the 1960s. Goldfinger’s designs were innovative, with the introduction of refuse chutes, amenity spaces and concierges to manage the buildings. Trellick Tower, which followed Balfron Tower, incorporated shops, offices and a community centre in a genuine mixed-use offering, something that is more prevalent now some 50 years later. The idea of moving the amenity space further up in the building allowed the ground plane to be left for play areas and to create a vibrant community spirit throughout the building – however, this led to mixed results.
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