In 1967, masterplanner Roy Gazzard faced with an exodus of the residents following the mine closures of North Tyneside was charged with an ambitious plan to prevent the loss of workers (and rates payers) to the City of Newcastle. Gazzards plan proposed a variety of housing typologies in the new township of Killingworth. The most ambitious scheme would become to be known as Killingworth Towers, but within 15 year of completion they would be demolished.
The towers where designed to provide 740 new homes formed from 27 interconnected corrugated concrete, angular extrusions. Varying between 6 to 10 storeys in height they stacked 2 and 3 maisonettes upon each other accessed by decks. Gazzard coined the flats a ‘vertical village… unlike conventional multi-storey flats’ he laid claim that the high level ‘streets’ or decks would encourage ‘the growth of community without reducing the privacy which everyone wants to enjoy’. The streets in sky principal intended to ‘provide safe walking above the roads… and place where neighbours can meet and talk, or watch children playing in the public gardens below’ (Killingworth Development Group).
The bleak towers had little articulation and where highly repetitive in appearance, coupled with a bleak exposed concrete appearance. The concept of ‘streets in the sky’ which was promoted during the period as an high density alternative to traditional terraced houses by architects such as Jack Lynn in Park Hill, Sheffield (1957-1961), was poorly duplicated in Killingworth with a distinct lack of generosity of articulation.
What was unique about the tower was not the architecture, but its tremendous failure and subsequent demolition in 1987. Contrary to many views, the buildings where popular with initial residents and to the day they were demolished, structural integral.
‘The project is being demolished not because of structural failure or other defects, but because of rejection by the poor who lived there’ (Peter Kellett, 1987)
Further reading – Tower Block
All images copyright of Dr Miles Glendinning and Professor Stefan Muthesius