Since 2006, over 30% of Glasgow’s tower blocks have been demolished, radically transforming the city’s skyline.
Acclaimed Glasgow-based photographer and filmmaker Chris Leslie is celebrated as the most consistent chronicler of the city’s recent history. Through his multimedia project and accompanying book Disappearing Glasgow, he documents this era of staggering change through photography and film.
Below Chris tells us what inspired the eight-year project and shares the stories behind five of the photographs and films from Disappearing Glasgow:
I hadn’t intended to spend one year or even eight years doing this project. I was just really keen to document my own city, my own surroundings. When the Commonwealth Games were awarded to Glasgow in late 2007 I thought this would be the ideal time to begin – after all, we were told everything was “about to change,” particularly where I live in the East End of the city.
A few years into the project – as much of what I had documented had disappeared – I was compelled to keep pushing the project, pushing for access and looking at different areas of the city going through regeneration. No-one else was doing this work either, so it felt as if I had a bit of a mission on my hands.
When the Red Road flats were first constructed in 1967 they were seen as the utopian answer to Glasgow’s pressing housing shortage and the clearance of the worst slums in Western Europe. They provided a new future for over 4,500 people.
Fifty years later, after a prolonged state of dilapidation, they had become an embarrassing blight and eyesore on the landscape. Plans were made to demolish Red Road as part of the live televised opening of the Commonwealth Games that Glasgow hosted in 2014. The idea was eventually halted after a 17,000 strong petition against the spectacle was received. The flats were finally partially demolished in a botched demolition October 2015, when all but two blocks failed to completely collapse. Red Road it seemed was going to hold on for just a little bit longer.
Lying abandoned beneath the Red Road Flats was a hidden underground world, including a 1,000-seater Mecca Bingo Hall, a favourite haunt that enticed Red Road’s ladies to gamble away their meagre fortunes, day and night. The Bingo hall closed in the 1990s and was opened one last time to allow the demolition crew to inspect it. It was an Aladdin’s cave, full of Red Road objects and treasures and memories, which I spent months collating and recording. You can watch my film above.
Once Scotland’s highest buildings, the Bluevale and Whitevale flats were unique in their design, resembling no other high-rises in the UK. They were idolised by many architects and photographers for their bold and powerful brutalist structures, but loathed by surrounding residents and Glasgow City Council as being terrifying, bleak, and depressingly out of date. The flats were demolished in 2015. My film Lights Out comprises 4 years of documentation, time-lapse recordings and audio interviews with the first and last residents of Bluevale and Whitevale.
Fountainwell Court/ Sighthill
Sighthill was once home to 6,000 people and disappeared in a phased demolition schedule from 2009 to 2016. This is the view from a living room in the Fountainwell Court high-rise block in Sighthill just before its inevitable demise. The flats were stripped of all contents and fittings, so that all that remained was the concrete shell and whatever 'wallpaper' survived.
The last image, and my book’s cover, is an archive photograph from one of the first families to move into the flats in 1969.
The Fleming Family Photograph
The Fleming family’s original image is layered over the same balcony in 2013, when the flats were empty of residents and awaiting demolition. This is my favourite image from the whole project. It represents a dialogue with the residents who once lived there. Without their input the Disappearing Glasgow project would be just pretty photographs. With their interviews, archive and stories, the project has became an important document of what has been an era of specular change in my city.