Social Exclusion Caused by Tower Blocks Since the UK High-Rise Housing Boom

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How have Tower Blocks caused social exclusion since the UK high-rise housing boom? Concentrating on how Erno Goldfinger’s Trellick Tower is no longer a ‘Tower of Terror’.


There is still a stigma surrounding Tower Blocks that has been floating around since the 1960s; an idea that is based on a fear. The brutalist tower blocks that were built during the post-war period, aimed to accommodate those that were living in slum-like conditions; lots of the new residents were on social housing waiting lists. The tower blocks built had great Corbusian concepts, for example, Heygate Estate in South London; the architect intended the tall concrete blocks to be connected by concrete bridges, with surrounding communal gardens. However, the scale of some of the blocks led to a poor sense of community, which led to an increase in anti-social behaviour and crime. In contrast Trellick Tower was built after these social issues were discovered, so it was dubbed the ‘Tower of Terrors’ in the 70s, potentially typecast upon conception. Residents of tower blocks have faced ‘ghettoisation’ due to the fact that the main inhabitants were and still are living in poverty, which excludes them from the rest of society. I want to understand why tower blocks have been so unsuccessful in the UK, and have caused segregation in neighbourhoods. I will also look at why Trellick Tower has become such a success story, and made a turnaround from its hellish past and now become a very fashionable place to live. It is also of note that living in tower blocks and flats in Europe is not regarded with the same negative attitude as it is in the UK. I will focus mainly on what research studies have found in terms of strong healthy communities and relate this to how Trellick Tower, and similar buildings were unable to provide the building blocks for this in the past.


As our population is steadily increasing, we need to find ways to make tower blocks function without the negative impacts of social exclusion. Whilst it is understandable that people living in tower blocks do feel this way, we must find why and how to make it work successfully, like it does in Europe. Tower block dwellings tend to be quite small, and not very well insulated. For residents, they have neighbours to either side, above and below. This means they must be quiet to have some privacy. Front doors tend to be close together and lacking in privacy also. Tower blocks are lacking in green space. Evidence suggests that humans need green space to be physically and mentally healthier (insert evidence name). Lots of UK tower blocks do not even have space on the ground for this. Tower blocks also exclude certain types of people, living on the 10th floor makes everyday tasks like getting out of the house to go shopping, seem like a lot of effort when you have children that are unable to walk yet, or even if the resident themselves is disabled. This means these residents are stuck in a cramped space with a very bleak outlook on life, and may develop a feeling of being excluded from the rest of society.

Designers want to be able to create something that has a positive effect on those that they are designing for. Whilst tower blocks had these intentions, years of neglect have had the opposite effect. I am interested in how the designed environment can impact your attitude to life and lifestyle choices.

I am particularly interested in how Trellick Tower has shown that it is not purely the design of a building, but how society has dealt with who lives in certain buildings, that has led to ghettoization, but can be redeemed.


I have chosen to use statistical research into anti-social behaviours & crime rates in areas dominated by tower blocks, and compare those with statistics from low-rise social housing areas and low rise privately owned areas. This should mean that I am able to use secondary data, and will not need to conduct my own surveys as the research is already available on the UK government website and websites such as the office of national statistics. I will also look at previous studies, and analyse their findings with my own to compare and come to conclusions. I will also look at research to do with Trellick Tower and how its inhabitants have changed over the years. I will use the English Housing Survey to review statistics in tower blocks.

Specifically I will be looking at

  • Gang crime
  • Theft
  • Robbery
  • Drug crime
  • Homicides
  • Sexual assault
  • Suicides
  • Quality of life
  • Mental health
  • Physical health

I believe that this method is the most suitable as I want to find out tower blocks have cause social exclusion through the years.

The impact of living in a tower block affects the behaviour of the residents. There is a subculture within a tower block that is set aside from the rest of society, and within that there can be negative impacts from that environment.

I want to find out the social exclusion of tower blocks has impacted on the residents. I will look at studies like Social Housing and Social Exclusion 2000-2011 by Rebecca Tunstall, which acknowledges that those in social housing are more likely to be socially excluded than those privately renting or owning. Also of note is how the study has also found that by 2011 housing quality of social housing had overtaken that in home ownership, and there were slight reductions in terms of income, employment and neighbourhood quality.


Alice Coleman’s 1985 Utopia on Trial

Alice Coleman surveyed nearly 4,100 blocks of flats containing over 106,000 dwellings and concluded that the physical environment could be changed to improve social conditions. The research was mainly conducted in the London Southwark and Tower Hamlets areas, and Blackbird Leys estate in Oxford. The study shows a relationship between building design and social malaise. Coleman found significant research that certain design features, such as number of dwellings in a block, number of storeys, number of interconnected exits etc, contribute to malaise like the presence of, litter, graffiti, vandalism, faeces and urine, and the incidence of children in care. Her discoveries were that these indices occurred more often in blocks of flats, than compared to single dwellings. This is unsurprising, as there are more dwellings in a block of flats. The author fails to acknowledge factors such as poverty, unemployment, sizes and ages of the buildings etc. and focuses on the sole design of the building. Due to the sheer size of her research, it is significant and contributed to the conservative ‘right to buy scheme’, which has benefited residents to this day.

City of Alice’s Dreams, Bill Hillier, 1986

This article contradicts Coleman’s Utopia on Trial, and criticises the findings as ‘not scientific’. Hillier analyses Coleman’s data and finds that rather than the percentage of blocks being majorly affected, it is the proportion of households affected as the block size increases that is the relevant figure. Hillier offers a real scientific response that disagrees with Coleman’s ‘solution’ to high-rise terror. This interests me as it points out how Coleman has shown little attention to factors other than what she wanted to project through her research. Hillier simplifies Coleman’s research to common sense.

'Race', Housing and Social Exclusion Peter Ratcliffe Published online: 14 Jul 2010.

This article looks through the context of housing and exclusion, and uses a number of studies to support the idea that access to good quality, affordable housing, in safe living environments are the key issues in social exclusion. People are excluded due to their access to basic social citizenship rights. The main individuals subjected to exclusion in this study, are those of ethnic minorities.

Social Exclusion – David Byrne 1999

This book looks at how employment has changed since the war and how this has caused societal change. By looking at the origins of social exclusion, it is easier to see how it can be demolished. The book also looks at social policy and focuses on income equality, spatial division and exclusion due to health, education and culture – which is vital for understanding the effects of tower blocks.

Explanations of Social Exclusion: Where does housing fit in? Peter Somerville 1998

This article uses evidence from English House Condition Surveys to suggest that between 1945 and 1970, progress was made to improve over-crowding slum like conditions, but since then conditions have improved no further, even deteriorating, meanwhile housing costs have escalated. The article also considers how ‘nimbyism’ causes segregation because it allows for people to protest against new developments in their neighbourhoods, and succeeding. Developments have to find sites further away, excluding them from access to a healthy living environment.

Marilyn Taylor – Social Exclusion and Housing

The author reviews case studies of social exclusion and housing and concludes that society is a impoverished as a whole by the divisions caused by exclusion. She points out that a partnership between policy making and communities is the only way to move towards an end to social exclusion. She looks at how studies agree with her understanding. This is valuable information because it uses real data to reinforce the idea that people are socially excluded to living in tower blocks due to their economic situation. However, it doesn’t show what sort of impact that has on the residents internally, just on how they end up there.

Anthony Giddens Sociology – 4th Edition

This book explains social exclusion in the setting of housing and neighbourhoods. It is clear that there is a divide between those that live in industrialised society, who are comfortable in their spacious housing, and those that reside in overcrowded dwellings that are poorly heated or structurally unsound. It explains that ‘dual-earning, childless couples’ are more likely to gain a mortgage for a home in an attractive area than adults who are unemployed or in low-paying jobs, because the housing market is based on your existed and projected resources - so disadvantaged individuals are usually excluded from desirable housing options. Similarly the disadvantaged areas, or communities, can experience exclusion from opportunities and activities like the rest of society. More affluent areas tend to have more services like banks, food shops, community spaces and post offices compared to less affluent areas. The less affluent areas tend to have fewer resources, such as transport, to access these services, depriving them even more. In these deprived communities, it is hard for people to overcome the exclusion as social networks may be weak. High unemployment and low income levels place strains on family life and crime and juvenile delinquency undermine the overall quality of life in the neighbourhood.

Identifying Neighbourhood Effects on Social Exclusion

Crime and Security in Trellick Tower, an interim report.

This book provides information about Trellick Tower’s crime rates, which relates to social exclusion and how it has changed over the years.


Tower blocks can cause social exclusion in terms of design, but the main problems the UK has faced due to tower blocks, have been caused by society placing poverty stricken families in one place.

Trellick Tower fits to Alice Coleman’s brief of being a ‘problem building’ but over the years it has turned into a functioning building. This has to do with society, and who is living in the dwellings. The more diverse the residents are the less excluded minorities will feel.