Living the High Life: Tower Block UK Travelling Micro Museum

Project Details


Tower Block UK has created an accessible record of UK multi-storey social housing through our online database and public engagement. 'Living the High Life' saw the creation of a ten-board exhibition charting a short history of high-rise building sin the UK, accompanied by a micro museum filled with photographs, newspaper articles, invitations, maps, slides, and other materials. The museum has helped, and continues to help Tower Block UK to bring the story of multi-storey social housing to as wide an audience as possible, and to do this in an innovative, accessible and engaging way while further enhancing the database through the collection of oral history and memories, photographs and ephemera related to high-rise living and communities. In doing so, the museum project promoted the social and architectural significance of post-war social housing; challenging negative assumptions that prevail about life in high-rise blocks and presenting them instead as a vanishing heritage worthy of documentation.

Layman's description

'Living the High Life' is a ten-board exhibition exploring the history of multi-storey social housing in the UK. Together with the micro museum, containing material such as photographs and maps for communities to explore, the display has travelled among different ares of Scotland in order to reconsider the significance of tower blocks, and to explore instead their status as valuable social and architectural heritage.

Key findings

This project furthered the aims of Tower Block UK project of presenting of a more balanced and accessible history of high rise social housing in the UK, by means of a travelling exhibition and micro museum, together with public and community events. The micro museum and exhibition have travelled to various locations in Scotland: Greenock, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, and Wester Hailes, and in three of these events we paired up with local community groups, and cultural stakeholders, in order to host events such as talks and film screenings which encouraged debate, discussion, and stimulate further interest and action. The material for each exhibition was contained within the easily transportable and unorthodox exhibition space of the museum box, rendering this an approachable rather than intimidating exhibition. Furthermore, by tailoring the material contained with the box to the geographic location of each event, and thus to the interests and knowledge of each specific community, meant that the material was more accessible to the local community, and thus resulted in a higher level of engagement upon a personal level. Tailoring our material to the location in which is was exhibited not only offered an opportunity for the Tower Block project to present something familiar to communities in a new light (such as presenting tower blocks as valuable architectural and social heritage), but in addition it also invited communities to contribute to the project, in the form of photographs of their area, knowledge and memories. The physical presentation of the museum box (as material to pick up and touch / read) visually communicated that this exhibition was not static or finished- rather, it was an ongoing project in which groups could be actively involved. Through the hand-held scanner contained within the museum box; the comment function on our online database; and in the form of discussions throughout events, communities were invited to contribute to the exhibition through their own photographic material, and through oral history. This is in line with our objective of offering opportunities for contributions to the museum box, and to the database itself. In each session the ‘comment’ function of the database was highlighted as a tool for community and individual use- and to date, we have had over 165 comments added to the database, ranging from architectural observations to memories, conversations, and information sharing regarding specific blocks and communities. Such comments and contributions demonstrate the positive response to the database and its content, and to the request to share memories and information which makes such a valuable contribution to our resource- in turn, rendering the resource itself a more valuable space for both photographic records, and also a record of oral history. Each event has ended with a discussion, which has resulted in lively conversations and frequent sharing of memories, experiences and opinions. At our event in Wester Hailes we held an oral history ‘blethers’ style session for people to share their memories and experiences of living in the area, which resulted in stimulating and enthusiastic exchanges. Furthermore, as this event was the first of a series of events held by WHALE Arts concerning ‘changing perceptions’ of life in Wester Hailes, Tower Block UK was a part of a larger community project to explore life within the area from a variety of perspectives, challenging assumptions and reconsidering aspects, including architectural and social. Based on feedback for these events, and in line with our objective of challenging perceptions of high-rise blocks, 100% of attendees who offered feedback (with a 42% response rate) felt that their knowledge and understanding of tower blocks and high-rise living had changed or developed as a result of our events, and as a result of engaging with the museum box and exhibition.
AcronymLiving the High Life
Effective start/end date1/01/1831/07/18