Carolyn Whitzman, MA, MCIP
Two towering housing complexes, each famous in their respective cities, with different origins and very different fates, illustrate both the challenges and the possibilities of high rise housing, and the importance of social infrastructure in tall buildings. One is St. James Town, designed in downtown Toronto in the 1960s as swinging singles apartments for the newly affluent youth market. It is now a byword throughout Canada for overcrowding, as the highest density neighbourhood in the nation, and is also considered a sinkhole of crime and poverty - although, as I will discuss, this cliche obscures as much as it illuminates. The second example is Trellick Tower in central London, constructed as public housing in 1972, and still the tallest housing block in England. While it was once seen as the perfect example of the perils of modernism in the 1980s, when drug dealing and petty crime was rife in its corridors, it is now listed as architecturally significant, and a two bedroom flat there can be bought for a mere 170,000 pounds, or approximately $400,000 Australian dollars.
But before I discuss these two case studies, we should start off with discussing 'social infrastructure', since it is a term that many people use, but few people bother to define. 'Infrastructure' itself means "the basic framework of a system or organization", while the prefix 'infra' itself, means "below or beneath". So infrastructure is what is below or beneath a structure, in this case high rise buildings. Looking again to the dictionary, 'social' is defined as "of or pertaining to society and its organization" (Funk and Wagnalls, 1980; my 1971 edition of the Oxford English Dictionary contains no separate entry for infrastructure, a sign, perhaps, of it being a relatively new catchphrase). So "social infrastructure"