To examine the change that occurred in cities due to the
“high rise – high density” movement in the post-industrial era, it is first necessary
an understanding of industrial cities and their urban form. The industrial
revolution, spanning from roughly 1760-1850, brought about urbanization due to
working-class citizens congregating in industrial cities to obtain factory
work. The influx of new residents called for the fast resurrection of cheap mass
housing. The outcome of this was that the working classes lived in the inner city
near the factories in tenement housing in extremely poor and polluted living
conditions. The worst of the living conditions consisted of back-to-back houses
which were built from cheap building materials in constricted conditions. The
back-to-backs often with multiple stories and one room on each floor normally
housed an entire family per floor (5 or more). These houses were built with one
brick’s thickness allowing for cheap construction but extremely cold and damp
living conditions. The combination of these factors caused an extreme spread of
disease. Although this form of housing was banned before the turn of the
century, in the early 1900s, other tightly packed terrace houses were still the
main urban design. Terrace housing was created with intention of fitting as
many people as possible into a small space. These intentions mean that roads in
terrace areas are narrow and due to when they were originally built parking
wasn’t considered. In addition to this, parks and community areas were
forfeited to allow for the maximum population density.

Diagram of terrace housing

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The intention of building high rise tower blocks in the city
centre was to transform cities by helping improve the living conditions for the
working classes. In the UK and throughout Europe, high rise architecture was
used as a solution for low cost housing for the poorest in society. This
involved removing cramped terrace housing and utilising a modern exciting new
prospect. Where tenement housing hid away the poorest people in society and
disguised the reality of poverty that existed, high rise buildings could put
the poorest at the centre of society.. Additionally, the idea of high rise
residential builds was as considered modern, inspiring and advanced and perhaps
the idea of housing the working classes in these tower blocks was a physical
manifestation of a desire to uplift the working classes

In reality, the use of tower blocks rather than terrace
housing hasn’t provided a great change in the quality of life of residents. On
a superficial level, the high-rise design for accommodation has left families
living in buildings which are unsanitary and poorly maintained. Less literal
but equally important issues are highlighted in the report Towering ambitions – Transforming high rise housing into sustainable
homes, by the green alliance. The report gives evidence that the population
density in tower blocks has adverse social implications, causing anti-social
behaviour as well as gang related activities. Furthermore, it demonstrates that
creating living environments far away from green open space increases chances
of mental health issues and reduces access to leisure and exercise which can
increase the chances of health problems.

Le Corbusier, the Swiss-French architect, spent his life’s
work considering how to adapt the city to improve the living conditions of
residents. Le Corbusier’s ideals agreed with the high rise and high density
design but not with the implementation. Improving living conditions in cities
needed focus on inclusion of open green community spaces and consideration of natural
light, calm environment and pleasant views. Designs for Le Corbusier’s ‘the
Radiant City’ were first published in 1924. As shown in the diagram below, the
design concept was a combination between high rise buildings and open space.
Each tower block was greatly distanced from another to provide open community
outdoor space between each.

Diagram of radiant city

Le Corbusier’s views on the benefits of green space are
still valid today. In 2016, the World Health Organization published its
findings about the effect of green space on public health, giving evidence of
an undeniable correlation, commenting on the pressure felt to create cities at
critical mass and illustrating the negative effects of this.

However, one argument against Le Corbusier’s design, termed ‘the
Cambridge school’ by James Dunnett in Le
Corbusier and the city without streets, creates debate as to whether high
rise high density actually does provide higher population density. Leslie
Martin claims that, despite a far lower build height, his designs could provide
high density accommodation.

Leslie Martin example (Parkers place)

If the Cambridge school argument, that high-density living
can be achieved without high rise buildings, is correct, it would be pertinent
to question why high rise design is so popular. The query can be answered by
examining the second objection to Le Corbusier’s design which Dunnett termed
‘the New York school’.

Rem Koolhaas, who argues for the New York school, believes
high rise buildings have transformed the city by creating a new style and
atmosphere of urban life. Koolhaas’ objection to Le Corbusier’s design comes
from the opinion that ‘opening up the city, by abolishing the sense of
compression generated by the street, he was destroying the essence and excitement
of urban life’. Koolhaas suggests that, in this way, high rise buildings in
this way have transformed the visuals and the atmosphere of the city. However,
not everyone considers the transformation to be positive as Koolhaas suggests.

Contextualising Koolhaas as a male middle class citizen is
important when considering his point of view. In 100mile city, . Deyan Sudjic provides
a negative portrayal of the atmosphere of cities, suggesting that there is a
culture of fear within cities. Although exciting to Koolhaas, the tight spaces
and dwarfing buildings can be terrifying to others. Particularly when
considering crime statistics for urban locations compared with rural, this can
seen to be true; according to Claude Fischer, professor of Sociology at
Berkley, there are roughly double the number of crimes in city centres compared
with suburbs. On the other hand, in Towns
for people, Ken Worpole seems to consider city fear as a social issue
unrelated to the design of the city. In his work, he focuses on the unfriendly
environment that is created for women and explains that the city design will
never succeed in modern day if it remains a hostile environment for women. His suggests
that national publicity and reporting stirs up fear and in doing so creates the
inauspicious environment.

Despite the opposing views on whether the city environment
is a positive or negative one, it is clear that the high rise – high density
urban form has transformed the visual aesthetic and the atmosphere of the city.
Despite the use of high rise buildings initially being considered to help the
working classes, it seems apparent that they have mainly been utilised to benefit
the middle classes and have had little influence on the poorest in society
living in council tower blocks.

Although the conditions are better than during the
industrial revolution, modern terrace housing solutions gave a similar quality
of life and more personal space to residents. When considering the
transformation for the working classes, it seems apparent that the intention to
stop hiding and ignoring poverty has not got better but worse. Containing
council housing in tower blocks instead of along terrace properties widens the
class divide because the tower block system stops middle class people from
having to interact or step foot in areas of poverty. An example of how high-rise
buildings have not helped the working class is the recent Grenfell tower block
fire. This demonstrates how high-rise buildings have allowed the working
classes to be cordoned off and ignored. The fire at the Grenfell tower block was
as bad as it was due to the flammability of the cladding on the outside of the
building. This case demonstrates perfectly how high-rise buildings benefit the
wealthy citizens of the city more than the residents. The cladding on the
outside was applied to make the building more attractive for on-lookers despite
the fact that it was such poor quality that it inevitably led this atrocity,
despite complaints from the residents. 

Overall, high rise high density design has transformed the
city for the middle classes allowing them to enjoy the atmosphere and beauty of
the high-rise buildings. On the contrary, the urban design has done nothing to
better the working class and has helped to distance the class divide even