Streets-in-the-sky : the rise and fall of modern architecural urban utopia
Streets-in-the sky is a form of multi-storey working class housing which is important in today's society for two reasons. Firstly, because street-deck housing became especially popular during the post-war rebuilding of British cities following the inter-war introduction of the idea and the successful development of the Park Hill scheme in Sheffield in the 1950s. In the 1960s, especially in the second half of the decade, the design professions, several leading local authorities, and central government undertook the development of street-deck housing throughout the United Kingdom. It proved to be especially popular, outside London, in the economically declining or static regions of England; relatively little being built in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. Hence streets-in-the-sky tended to be developed in those English regions where the basic export industries of coal, iron and steel, shipbuilding and textiles were subject to the most comprehensive state-controlled restructuring. The large scale public investment and labour resistance to change associated with industrial restructuring were therefore often partnered by a form of high density housing more acceptable to the financially overburdened local authority and the 'anti-flats' culture of the English than the economically and socially unpopular tower block. Following the building programme there was a decline in the fortunes of modern architecture, the labour movement and the United Kingdom economy. With that decline came a pronounced reduction in the quantity and quality of this type of urban housing. In the 1970s, the poor construction, difficult access, anti-social use of the 'street' and the stigma attached to living on the estates usually led to the schemes becoming especially difficult-to-let. Thus, in a quarter of a century, this particular housing form had changed from being a central element in the modern architectural urban utopia to its opposite - a microcosm of the problems facing British cities in their decline. Secondly street-deck housing is important because its history brings to light the contradictions between different ideas and different political and economic interests, and reveals how these contradictions can be temporarily overcome by the development of a particular form of urban housing. These patterns of conflict and consensus are not fully comprehended by existing "counter-revolutionary" and "revolutionary" theories of urban form and change. In the former case we have tried to show how the assumptions of so called 'postmodernism' are incorrect. And in the latter, how a far broader interpretation of the totality (base and superstructure) is necessary as a basis to knowledge and action.