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Tower block buildings developed in high population centers of the United Kingdom, and their popularity as a multi-story housing and commercial type arose at about the same time in Eastern European, Asia, and the United States. While the term tower block is widely considered the British name for high-rise architecture, it may carry some more negative connotations than “high-rise” or “skyscraper.” Although tower block building was considered a smart use of small plots of land, often it developed into a housing problem for residents and communities.
Multi-story buildings became more prevalent in the 1950s and 1960s, when builders and planners began to look at population density in city centers and suburban outskirts. Housing larger numbers of people to do the work brought on by industrial growth often included building up rather than out. Consolidating office buildings into corporate centers also grew in popularity as building technologies began to allow for consolidation of operations and facilities on multiple floors.
New tower block architecture was mostly modern and utilized concrete and sometimes concrete prefabrication in construction. Buildings generally were considered to be durable, earthquake-resistant, and low-maintenance compared to some of the earlier and more ornate varieties of skyscraper in worldwide urban centers. In some countries, tower block architecture may have translated to a utilitarian form that complemented simple living and working. Vast blocks of housing still serve to house suburban populations in a number of post-Communist countries.
As tower block buildings were put into use, some advantages and disadvantages became clearer to developers. Creating a sense of efficiency and community may have been a goal for tower block housing, but sometimes the very closeness of the blocks of flats, or apartments, created some problems for tenants. Social issues such as crime and unsanitary or unsafe conditions arose in blocks of flats, or apartments, in the UK and the US. As an economical form of construction, tower blocks became more prevalent for use in creating public housing in impoverished urban areas where rates of crime may already have been high.
Architectural and social service studies focusing on tower blocks as structures and as a housing model have led to improvements. Taking the best of what multi-story construction has to offer and the lessons learned from housing failures, some areas have or may experience a renaissance of tower block building or rehabilitation for new movements of professionals in dense urban or suburban locals. Some of the best blocks of flats have become renowned architecturally and as case studies in urban planning, while others have gone the way of the wrecking ball.
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