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The role of high-rise housing

High rise

Researcher

Tim Lewis, STEAM PhD scholar

Aims of research

The project will explore whether post-war high-rise public housing in London and Birmingham still has a role to play in providing homes, amid a growing shortage of housing and a trend to replace the period's architecture.

Methods of research

In Birmingham alone, more than 400 tower blocks were constructed over the two decades, around 200 of which have since been demolished. Birmingham is already witnessing the demolition of a number of its iconic twentieth-century buildings, and a number of local groups are calling for a reassessment of Birmingham's twentieth-century heritage.

Tim Lewis, one of our 50 STEAM scholars, will look into tower blocks built in urban areas between the 1950s and 1970s, reassessing the reasons for their construction, the problems they encountered and their viability as homes today.

The project will take an in-depth look at all forms of high-rise, including early architect-led mixed developments that combined houses, low and high-rise flats, and maisonettes to form small communities. It will also examine later structures such as the system build developments that largely focused on increasingly tall developments in urban areas.

Case studies will examine examples in London and Birmingham, and explore whether the original ideals may meet the needs of modern urban housing. Views on conserving buildings will also be explored, ranging from evaluating the importance of these buildings through the extent to which redevelopment is possible, and whether gentrification is an inevitable consequence of conservation.

Applications

With the UK currently experienced a shortage of available housing, a qualitative study into the reasons, ideals and viewpoints surrounding high-rises could play a major role in shaping future developments.  

Benefits

Despite dividing opinion, it is hoped that by re-evaluating high-rise housing can inform its continued viability as housing. If some of the current structures can be retained and conserved, the history of the high-rise can be maintained and provide much-needed housing, while also minimising the ecological impact of demolition and re-building.