University of Edinburgh experts are creating a unique visual archive of all tower blocks of public housing in the UK, to help clear the fog of ignorance and misunderstanding about them.

Social and architectural historians from the Scottish Centre for Conservation Studies will create a publicly accessible catalogue that celebrates the ‘unexpected heritage’ of Britain’s post-1945 building boom, at a time when high-rise homes are increasingly threatened with demolition.

The ‘Tower Block-UK’ database will contain images of every single postwar multi-storey public housing project ever constructed in the country, including ones destroyed more than 30 years ago.  

The three-year Heritage Lottery-funded project has digitised over 4,000 images taken in the 1980s and is now making them fully searchable as part of the Tower Block-UK database: the first phase of the database is now online at http://www.towerblock.eca.ed.ac.uk/, and further tranches of images and sites will follow in the near future.

Among them are the Red Road and Gorbals schemes in Glasgow, the Everton area in Liverpool, Birmingham’s Castle Vale, Manchester’s Hulme redevelopment, the Divis redevelopment in Belfast, and London estates such as Broadwater Farm, Aylesbury, Thamesmead and Roehampton.

The project convener, Professor Miles Glendinning of the Scottish Centre for Conservation Studies at Edinburgh College of Art, said: “We hope this project will help contribute to the ongoing shift in public attitudes towards the post-war Modernist housing heritage, which is fast turning from an object of dislike and alienation into a force for potential community empowerment.

“Council tower blocks were once the most prominent and dramatic legacy of the post-1945 reconstruction drive, but mass demolitions over the past 35 years, still continuing today, have depleted this vast heritage, leaving it obscured or incomprehensible to the public at a time when popular interest in post-war Modernist heritage is sharply increasing.”

The £52,900 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund is helping digitise the photographs and support local outreach initiatives, which encourage high-rise residents to tell their stories, and aid them in telling community histories. The project will be completed in mid 2018.