‘High-rise public housing estates are uninhabitable; they are unsafe for the residents because they are crime infested, a phenomenon generated, or at least encouraged, by the building structures and layout of estates.’ Such slogans are legion among American and British commentators. There is no need to rehearse the litany. The high-rise built-form had been declared ‘unfit’ for family living by a US National Commission on Urban Problems (quoted in Weicher, 1982:63). In Britain, one critic summarily stated, ‘No more flats should be built’ (Coleman, 1985:171). The demolition by bombing of Pruitt-Igoe has been transformed into the symbolic embodiment of failure, even by architects themselves (Jencks, 1986:16). Middle-class professionals, critics with noble intentions, aim to save the poor from themselves by taking them out of high-rise buildings. Yet similar house-forms have been very successful with the wealthy who choose to live in city centres, such as Manhattan or the south side of Chicago, and avail themselves of the facilities which those city centres offer. This difference should readily point us away from simplistic architectural determinism and suggest that perhaps the problem with high-rise public housing is not with the built-form but with the financing, management and, indeed, the tenants themselves.
A further irony is that the most severe criticisms should come from the United States, where public housing accounts for a grand total of about 1 per cent of the national housing stock, and from Britain, where only 13 per cent of the total public-housing stock were actually ‘high-rise’ flats. This is because in these two countries housing has to a considerable extent conventionally meant houses on the ground. The criticisms are therefore mounted from an ideological assumption that the single-family-house-on-the-ground concept, with a clearly delineated private patch that offers a maximum sense of privacy and territorial control, is universally the preferred form. The plain fact is, however, that the US