Photographer Chris Leslie captures the decaying tower blocks of Glasgow










There are few more handsome cities than Glasgow.
But for photographer Chris Leslie, it’s not the warehouses of the Merchant City or the sandstone tenements of the West End that interest him, but the notorious high-rise estates on the edge of town. And it’s those developments that are the focus of his book, Disappearing Glasgow.
Once the embodiment of 1960s optimism, Glasgow’s tower blocks became synonymous with the economic decline of the city, slowly disintegrating until they were unfit for habitation.
Since the 1990s, the local council has demolished many of them, something which Chris Leslie started to capture as part of his master’s degree in documentary filmmaking in 2007. Graduating with distinction in 2010, he’s carried on with the project until the present day. Here, he tells Umbrella why.  
You take pictures of Glasgow's estates. What attracts you to them?
High-rise landscapes like Sighthill and Red Road were fantastic places to photograph. But what was more important were the stories all the blocks contained. I wanted to find out more about why these areas became condemned, and what was the turning point from them being the solution to a housing crisis in the 1960/’70s to a ‘problem’ later on.
A lot of these estates are being demolished. How do you feel about that?
I’ve never lived in a high-rise or a ‘sink estate’ so it was never really for me to really comment. But we’re witnessing a major turning point in Glasgow’s social history and these tower blocks needed to be documented before they disappear.
Can you tell us a bit more about the Red Road flats?
They were the most iconic of all the city’s high-rise estates due to their sheer size and scale, and later, their notoriety as a place no-one wanted to live. But roll back to when they were first constructed in 1967 and they were in big demand. Soviet town planners would visit the Red Road site as Glasgow was seen as the world leader in high-rise buildings at that time.
So what went wrong?
When heavy industry left the area in the late 1970s/’80s, the north of the city, and Red Road flats in particular, began their slow decline. Poor management from the then Glasgow Corporation and subsequent city council left the buildings neglected. High unemployment and drugs moved in and families moved out. Attempts to rebrand the flats as student accommodation had limited success but when asylum-seekers moved there in the late-’90s their fate was sealed. They were finally demolished in October 2015.  
What set of photos are you most pleased with? 
My favourite photo, and one that sums up the whole project for me, is of the wee boys playing football from 1972 on the balcony, superimposed on the same balcony in 2013 (when the flats were ready for demolition). The photos were given to me by the Flemings – who were one of the first families who lived in the flats. They spoke of happy days and memories of bringing up their kids there. And that was a typical response from most residents: “It’s not the actual building itself, but it’s all your memories, that’s where I was brought up, that’s where I was made.”
What was the strangest thing you saw?
I’d heard rumours there was an ‘underground level’ to the Red Road flats that had been closed off since the late-’90s. In 2011, when the demolition crews needed access, it was opened for a brief period to reveal an abandoned underground ‘bunker’ that once housed the local amenities for the 4,700 people who once occupied the flats.
Incredible. What was it like?
This underground world consisted of a nautically themed bar called The Brig – a local pub without windows, but with boat-themed decor, wood-panelled walls and compass tables. Next door was a staggering 1,000-seater Mecca Bingo Hall, a favourite haunt for Red Road’s ladies. Completely flooded and partially damaged by fire, it still managed to retain its grandiose interiors of mirrored pillars and a bold red-and-blue colour scheme. 
After this project, what’s next for you?
It’s been great to work on, but keeping up to date on Glasgow’s regeneration is a full-time job. Another city would be great to document, but just as I think I’ve exhausted all avenues on Glasgow it always seems to throw up another story. Ultimately, I think there’ll still be work for me here in my home city
Disappearing Glasgow is published by Freight Books, priced £20.

Photographer Chris Leslie captures the decaying tower blocks of Glasgow Comments

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