Hulme Crescents, Manchester, were four massive deck-access blocks bulit in 1972 to house 13,000 people. At the time the Crescents were Europe’s largest social housing project, but soon became famous as one of Britain’s worst housing schemes. Just two years after completion, Manchester City Council deemes the Crescents unsuitable for families, due to a series of accidents involving children falling from balconies with serious design flaws. Two new dual carriageways cut the estate off from the rest of the city, leaving residents isolated and with no public transport. With the energy crisis of 1973, the pioneering underfloor heating became too expensive for tenants to use. No deinfestation had been carried out on the subsoil prior to construction, so the flats were plagued with cockroaches and mice, which thrived in the heating ducts from early on. Police refused to patrol the decks, leaving residents exposed to muggings. By 1975, 93% of residents said they wanted to be rehoused. Lacking sufficient funds to demolish the estate, in 1984, Manchester City Council effectively abandoned the Crescents and stopped charging rents. The flats were occupied by squatters, and became the centre of the North West’s anarchist and punk scene. Unchecked by the council, the new residents modified the buildings. Three flats were knocked together to form The Kitchen nightclub and the estate gained its own art house cinema. The ‘lack of ownership of communal spaces’ that had been initially complained of, proved in the end to be a factor that encouraged a new sense of possibility. The Crescents were demolished by Manchester City Council in 1992.
In the end, it’s always the inhabitant-adapted re-use; the unsanctioned interstitial reclamations, often by marginalized groups, which designers cannot foresee or plan for, which lead to the most architecturally, socially, and culturally rich re-use of the unwanted, the underutilized and under-appreciated spaces.
Architectural form is the stage-set, so design a beautiful stage which looks out onto the world. The second and most important aspect of an architects job though, should be to create, allow, facilitate, or otherwise encourage user-defined adaptations to their own environments as both a fortifying aspect of community-building among peers, but also because it fucking gives the power and agency of spatial command back to those who are forced to live in those spaces.
god, I hate my triple decker …