Sunday, 6 March 2016

Anderston. Anderston Centre. The Bridge to Somewhere. Glasgow City Centre.

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A few weeks ago on a hunt for new areas and districts to explore a few things caught my attention around Charing Cross on the north west corner of Glasgow City Centre. This is a thriving business, commercial and residential district I'm very familiar with as various buses I get pass along the main road into Glasgow's heart. On a whim however I jumped off the bus just before it, at St Vincent Street, maybe because I'd been watching  "Back in time for the weekend" a nostalgia flavoured look at how technological innovations, fashion trends, music, food and cultural attitudes have shaped our lives over the past five decades. This is Anderston district, above, in 2016, an old inner city ward originally of overcrowded working class tenements next to the factories and shipyards on the nearby River Clyde.
 Anderston. St Vincent Terrace flats. Taken around early 2000s
During the 1960s a major transformation took place in Glasgow and much of this old tenement district was flattened to make way for the new M8 motorway, which carves a wide path through the southern edge of Govan, Cessnock, Kinning Park and Kingston. This was a blessing for me earlier,in 1957/ 1958 as my family moved from inner district Kinning Park to leafy Pollok during the initial slum clearances, like many others to new built outer large estates, holding between 20,000 to 50,000 inmates/families in each of them. Most but not all of the Pollok folk came from Govan, Kinning Park, The Gorbals etc on the inner south side.The other three large estates of Drumchapel, Castlemilk and Easterhouse took in displaced folk from inner city districts nearer their own inner quarter of the city. Massive schemes or council estates which became known as the "Big Four" one at each corner of the ever growing city built on ground which had been fields and farms. Glasgow, like many other cities in the UK and abroad found itself swamped with economic migrants from the impoverished Scottish Highlands and Ireland looking for a better life and job prospects. Very similar in fact to the situation facing European countries today. During the late 1880s and early 1900s Glasgow doubled in population nearly every decade, causing massive overcrowding and social problems and was the 4th city in Europe after London, Paris and Berlin to exceed one million citizens. The legacy of that is still going on in cities UK wide as the solution then seemed to be to adopt Le Corbusier's dream of "Cities in the Sky." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Le_Corbusier
He was undoubtedly a talented visionary, years ahead of his time, but when his visions were scaled up and people, especially families, were added to the mix, this Utopian dream was found to be flawed. Of all the cities in the UK Glasgow seemed to embrace it wholeheartedly and despite numerous hi rise clearances in the last 30 years still has considerable numbers of these "sky cities" left.
The same blocks of flats in Anderston today 2016, given a makeover. The highest blocks in this long line running along St Vincent Street have recently been demolished but maybe they could have been shipped to America  instead as they would have been perfect for Mr Trump's high wall along the border. That'll keep them out and Glasgow still has loads of similar concrete structures, enough to make a good start on the wall anyway.
Enough history. Nostalgia next. During my early teenage years, 16 to 19 years old, I knew people my own age in Anderston  and used to meet them off the bus then walk around these flats in the days when you could explore the upper levels easily without door entry systems or CCTV watching your every move. I have to say I loved these newly built "cities in the sky" but only as a playground. We never caused any trouble or vandalized anything, it was just plain curiosity and a teenage love of anything new and exiting to explore on our doorstep. This was a real Emerald Kingdom and it was a fantastic  time to be young.
We were all heavily into music, architecture,1960s books, films and pop art at that time as the swinging 60s never really happened away from a small part of London, maybe Liverpool, and a few American cities. It eventually reached here by the early 1970s  and we got a taste of it as well. Like most young folk in the provinces we couldn't wait to embrace it and be simultaneously cool, part of a wider movement yet also outsider rebels. A stance with a great deal of irony as anyone truly apart is usually shunned by society and struggles to fit in with any group as they have completely different thought processes and standards that in general only become accepted as genius quality once they are completely mad, tamed or dead. Only when they can no longer embarrass or irritate with improbable leaps in every direction and are safety contained where they can be elevated without ruining it with their own contrary behavior are they given full respect and myth status. Always better than the real, sometimes inexplicably rude or unpredictable, irascible, unlikable personality in the flesh.
This is a pedestrian bridge across the M8 motorway in the photo above that cuts up through the Charing Cross district on the western edge of Glasgow City Centre. For 40 years it stayed uncompleted, "the bridge to nowhere" as it hung forlornly above the motorway as a complete mid air dead end. A similar road bridge nearby did the same thing but was eventually topped off by modern office space. (Tay House)

Hilton Hotel above, a 20 floor, five star gleaming tower built in 1992 dominates the skyline here. This elevated wide walkway was funded by Sustrans a couple of years ago and makes a great walking or cycling excursion into the city centre via Anderston. It also finally links the two sections of modern Anderston together as the original 1970s design intended.
As it was a cracking blue sky day for my visit I enjoyed this walk immensely. A new walkway for me to bag and an urban adventure as I always enjoy the thrill of new city views as much as the best mountain days. Also a photographer's dream here to show the skyline of Glasgow from a different angle. A small group of us in the early to mid 1970s would meet in Anderson or at the 23rd precinct ( a popular basement floor record shop in Bath Street), browse the album racks inside then invariably head back towards the Anderston Centre to hang around in and explore.
The Anderston Centre at that time was something else. Completed in 1974 it was one of the largest integrated city centre development complexes in the UK outside of London with a mixture of hi rise apartments, shops, offices, underground and elevated walkways, escalators, car parks, and even a short dog leg road and warren of mini tunnels running under the structure. Built as a true self contained city in the sky it was a fantastic unintended playground for teenagers to explore and I have many happy memories of doing just that.
Even in 2016, after a gap of 30 odd years I found it just as amazing as before. This walkway across Waterloo Street used to lead past the old Albany Hotel (then renamed Holiday Inn) and in the days before CCTV this was where we used to practice night time shenanigans and teenage feats of strength like climbing up the various balconies, under-arming the bridges, balancing on top of assorted railings before jumping across them or back and footing up between tightly placed buildings until our nerve gave out. We didn't do it all the time of course and were always careful to pack it in if anyone noticed but it was a serious addiction for a while. David Bowie released Aladdin Sane in 1974, a sprawling masterpiece of a collapsing hi rise society inspired by his first real tour across America and us eager teens, into anything decadent, exciting, dangerous, and new, thought of the Anderston Centre then as our very own mini mega city. "Streets in the sky" Just like that album and most of the lyrics to the songs on it could have been written about here... or so it seemed to us back then . Like many things across the UK, then and now, heavily influenced by American ideas... just on a smaller scale. Back in those days it was access all areas if you didn't misbehave and there is hardly an inch of this magnificent complex we didn't explore as we had several friends in our informal group who knew folk living in the hi rise blocks. We were very well behaved as usual, realizing early on that it could get you into places you wanted to go much better if you stayed under the radar in twos and threes when entering buildings. The views from the upper floors across the city at night I still remember to this day.
Even in 2016 it was a thrill and a privilege to wander through here remembering the scattered collection of weird specialist shops in odd corners. The Pot Black, and the numerous dead end walkways and cul de sacs. Cumbernauld Town Centre was built to a similar design and countless other shopping centres and concrete new towns had the same architecture. Sadly, many deck access and tower block estates soon became notorious free for all's like the Divis Flats in Belfast, Hulme Crescents in Manchester, South Gate in Runcorn, Broomhall in Sheffield,  and countless others world wide. Despite arriving on a wave of optimism that this was the future many of these "sky lands" lasted 20 years or less before they were demolished or drastically revamped. The ones that survive are usually redesigned as here, to appeal to young city professionals wishing to live close to the beating heart of the metropolis and all its delights, close to where they work in adjacent business towers. Glasgow's gleaming glass and steel financial district is close by but it's not a world I'm familiar with or one that appeals apart from viewing the architecture. I like living on the outskirts but coming in occasionally to gawp at the changes every few years and shake my head before departing back to the low level suburbs.

It is exciting even today but just for a short while at my advanced age and cynicism. Living in tenement land Nitshill during my teens the red SMT western buses ran past my street taking me into town and the heart of The Anderston Centre as the lower street level contained a bus station from the mid 1970s to the mid 1990s. This "sky city" was originally designed as a much larger project stretching across both sides of the motorway with a connecting bridge across to other hi rise towers, shops and offices. Thankfully, this didn't happen as unforeseen events took over in the late 1970s and 1980s to change the nature and reputation of this mega structure.
Full details in this interesting link under Decline and Demise.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anderston_Centre

And a small taste of the complex and bus station from its hey day around 1985. This short segment here and film is not in the same class as Gregory's Girl, Local Hero, or Dear Frankie but it was filmed around Glasgow and Edinburgh providing a good snapshot of 1980s nostalgic charm and optimism. It's supposed to be Edinburgh hence the confusing Princes Street sign but it's most definitely Glasgow's long defunct bus depot. I don't remember it ever being this warm, light or busy when I used it however as it was all open plan, very drafty, dark and cold most of the year. It was never as crowded as this any time we were there which was a large part of its appeal...for us teens and then the sad angels of the shadows that followed our lead as a place to attract moths with pockets away from prying eyes.







It still looks a remarkable place but with the demise of the bus station I no longer had a reason to end up there after a shopping trip and out of town shopping centres and retail parks in the late 1990s soon changed my habits as it was more convenient and cheaper nearer home. I'd almost completely forgotten about this place until this visit which is an increasing danger we all face as technology changes our habits in an instant. City centers have been under threat for decades now and smart phones and online shopping can only add to that in profound ways with the recent news that 900,000 retail jobs may disappear over the next decade in the UK alone. Major UK brands like BHS are struggling in a very competitive market place and its frightening how things just disappear overnight, almost without notice, until you look back years later and wonder where they went.

Amazingly, parts of this complex seemed like a time warp and hadn't changed at all. I was close to two sisters back then in that teenage group ( my own Queens of the Stone Age) and when they moved to Gourock on the west Clyde Coast I followed them down at weekends and continued our adventures by the sea.
A dark cul de sac on the upper levels. Once it started to get a tad rough around here in the late 1980s and early 1990s it could not have been much fun for residents in the towers or office girls as during the early winter nights there was always a chance of being mistaken for a different kind of working girl.
Bumping into random strangers around corners meant it was not for the fainthearted after dark. A council scheme or suburb on the outskirts where you can usually spot or hear trouble coming from a distance, and avoid if need be, represents natural surroundings I'm more comfortable with. Like many deck access estates built during that period the residents swapped a close knit tenement community for a more isolated open plan wasteland which was not a very friendly or productive environment for bringing up children or keeping pets that required exercise outside.
Looking in the direction of Charing Cross from the elevated walkway. I still find these streets in the sky appealing but only as a curious visitor reliving his past.
The underground car park. Now gated and patrolled this used to be open plan and a drive through affair, dimly lit in places and a haven for red light girls. An education into a dark, very dangerous sub culture that fitted perfectly with the street poetry of Lou Reed, The Velvet Underground, Iggy and the Stooges and Marc Bolan. Even today King Tut's Wah Wah hut is just around the corner for a modern generation of  music lovers. Maybe it's just me but I still never use underground or multi level car parking if I can help it, especially at night.
The old Habitat/ Pinnacle building on Bothwell Street getting a renovation next door to the Anderston Centre and the Alexander "Greek" Thomson Church. This part of Glasgow has also been transformed in the last few years. Never went into the shop but I remember the concrete waterfall underneath, a design feature of its day that neatly summed up the whole concept of brutalist fashion. Completely stripped and bare of any vegetation or natural beauty as it poured over a straight drop into a tiny concrete  garden. Very expensive, trendy, but ultimately shallow. The architecture that is.
The Argyle Building. Modern apartments built in 2008 as an addition to the Anderston Centre. It does look eye-catching and at 21 floors, over 200 feet, is one of the highest towers in the city centre district for young professional types. Outstanding views I'd imagine. Glasgow's City Centre only rises 10 to 20 floors as a general rule for buildings and no one has dared climb higher yet, probably due to criticism, traditional expectations as regards the historic skyline of old listed buildings and past failures going high... plus the very real risk of committing up front major investment then hoping enough clients move in to take up the completed units. Elpinstone Tower, a proposed skyscraper at Charing Cross a few years ago would have reached 39 floors making it the tallest in Scotland by some margin but the recession and the usual conservative public concerns means a 14 floor building in its place by different developers. Just from a purely personal angle I was looking forward to seeing it soar above the city (with hopefully a public viewing gallery) but sadly it seems to be another pipe dream on the back burner.
I hope folk outside Glasgow will have enjoyed this post as much as I have. In my last post I featured Bioshock Infinite as a video,  mainly because the floating city of Columbia in that reminded me so much of my teenage times here. Happy days spent among the residents, prostitutes, and assorted fascinating characters of the "Sky City." I loved it here in the 1970s, the 1980s, and even the 1990s and I like the new posher version now. It's still an exciting place to be. A Lad Insane indeed.
A time warp and a new regeneration side by side.
It's well worth a wander through here.
An excellent short visual history of the M8 construction and the building of the Anderston Centre  in the early 1970s. Kingston Bridge over the River Clyde opened by the Queen Mother.







8 comments:

Linda W. said...

I'll bet it was fun to wander through the old neighborhoods and reminisce.

Carol said...

"A stance with a great deal of irony as anyone truly apart is usually shunned by society and struggles to fit in with any group as they have completely different thought processes and standards that in general only become accepted as genius quality once they are completely mad, tamed or dead"

That's so true!

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Linda,
It certainly was but it seems such a strange idea now to put office space and shops hidden away inside residential tower blocks when most shoppers had no idea or inclination to visit them.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Carol,
My own quote and bitter observation as although I've always been in various groups over the years and enjoyed their company any time I've suggested doing anything different... " Potholing in a climbing club????!!" Cross country skiing in a hill-walking club!!? kayaking/Cycling in a mountaineering club???? it's usually greeted with disbelief or ridicule as a mad concept.
I've spent decades trying to persuade people to do a wide range of different activities rather than the same old thing every week but most of the time I have to do it alone or practically beg people to give it a go.
It's still happening to this day and folk still think I'm mad to want to try different sports or things of outdoor interest for variety instead of just doing what we always do every single week. Is it me that's mad or them?
If I had the money and free time I'd attempt new past-times every few months... hang gliding, kite surfing, scuba diving, speed dating :o)

Carol said...

I think I'd give speed dating and hang gliding a miss personally! But I'm like you - I like to do different things or at least give (nearly) everything a go. The madder the scheme the more I like it personally. Hence my row across Loch Quoich in the daft little boat - I just had to do it. Also my cave-sleeping trip in the Arrochar Caves. I asked a lot of people on the forum I was on if they wanted to sleep up at Arrochar Caves - a couple volunteered but the rest said we were nuts. When they read our reports about how much fun it was, they were all jealous! You only live once though (so far as we know)...

Mike @ A Bit About Britain said...

That was a fascinating piece. And really well-written, if you don't mind my saying so. I visit Glasgow often and see it with a visitor's eyes. You offer a perspective on a part that I mostly drive through, and which I could not possibly appreciate without your eyes. I need to read it again before my next trip. Personally, I find most of the architecture of the 60s and 70s quite offensive, however well intentioned. All our great cities are hotch-potches now, it seems, lacking in something approaching cohesion - and, often, sadly, a mess.

blueskyscotland said...

Ah, but it's outdoor speed "dating" in interesting locations, in deep tunnels, on cliff edges, high up on iconic buildings, and various other exciting spots reached via a combination of obstacle course navigation and cross country exploration to get there by a certain time limit. That's where the hang gliding comes in. I'm sure it's a unique idea that will appeal to the more adventurous spirit. How's that for thinking out the box :o)

blueskyscotland said...

Cheers Mike, Like you I enjoy finding out about the history of places I visit as that's part of the attraction afterwards although on this occasion I obviously have a personal interest, growing up there. More Glasgow, other Scottish towns, and 1950s/1960s architecture to follow as I've spent the last few months revisiting some lesser known locations on bike and foot.
I really enjoyed your colourful post on Liverpool and The Beatles a few months ago as that's a city I've always wanted to visit.