Consensus and compromise: the rise and fall of Britain’s post-war high-rise housing initiative

Lewis, Timothy StJohn (2021) Consensus and compromise: the rise and fall of Britain’s post-war high-rise housing initiative. Doctoral thesis, Birmingham City University.

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Modernism heralded the flat as an exciting new paradigm in twentieth century housing provision. A new generation of post-war architects, energised by the task of reconstruction explored how it might add variety to their developments, provide accommodation for a specific demographic and deliver higher densities. The appeal of the mixed-development neighbourhood unit, introduced by Abercrombie and Forshaw in their County of London plan(1944)would quickly find favour throughout the country. In the post-war world, new technology held the promise of factory based manufacture offering faster and more economic construction. System build, pioneered largely on the Continent, offered a tantalising opportunity to modernise the building industry and streamline construction. The need to meet ever increasing demand necessitated higher densities and technology promised faster construction and enabled higher, more economic building. Following the 1968 Ronan Point disaster, widespread tenant opposition to the high-rise block would finally find its voice and contribute to the demise of government sponsored social housing provision. Today many high blocks have been demolished or have succumbed to questionable refurbishment, those that remain and the estates on which they stand face an uncertain future.

This study examines the background and development of the high-rise movement and the motivations and objectives of a range of actors that enabled it. Although only 20per cent of twentieth century social housing can be attributed to high-rise it has come to symbolise the problems associated with social housing provision in Britain.

Research draws upon original archive material and records from central and local government, publications from the architectural and structural engineering professions as well as contractors’ technical and promotional publications. These provide new insights into how high-rise became an important component of social housing provision, the rationale behind System build, what it promised, who was involved in its promotion, what it delivered and how ultimately it fell short. The study will include a case study focussing on Birmingham’s implementation of high-rise and the City Architects and politicians that shaped strategy that will shed new light on the development of the movement and the sometimes conflicting objectives of those involved in its implementation.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
12 October 2021Completed
Uncontrolled Keywords: Social housing, high-rise, tower block, Modernism, Birmingham housing, City Architect, Public Architect, System Build, Pre-fabrication, Industrialised building.
Subjects: CAH13 - architecture, building and planning > CAH13-01 - architecture, building and planning > CAH13-01-04 - planning (urban, rural and regional)
Divisions: Faculty of Computing, Engineering and the Built Environment > School of Engineering and the Built Environment
Doctoral Research College > Doctoral Theses Collection
Depositing User: Kip Darling
Date Deposited: 19 Nov 2021 10:55
Last Modified: 03 Mar 2022 15:49

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