Editor at Large
How to build a Banana
When someone in the Banana Flats died young recently, a little improvised shrine appeared in the garden at the bit where the banana bends. Rather like those tiny roadside shrines that pepper Japan. My friend who hails from Yorkshire and lives in Tokyo says, people leave gifts like bottles of whisky and money. He does not often leave empty handed!
Our improvised shrine is more modest; a football, a helium balloon, empty bottles of his favourite tipple, candles in lanterns, full packets of favoured snacks. For a while there were fresh bouquets of flowers now they are plastic. A Hearts shirt draped across the fence is, movingly, untouched, in this the cradle of Hibernian.
As I leave, I see a small framed picture of the guy on top of what looks like a Munro… with his dog.
My dog, in his turn, is drawn towards the Banana Flats for the number of dogs to be found in its near environs. There are a lot of dogs. He follows the curve of the building following their scents - like a greyhound chasing a rag on a rope. Whilst stopping the while to bark at anyone who has the temerity to play any ball sport in the basketball court without his participation. Surprisingly (or not) the court is much in use
It is difficult to miss Cables Wynd House - a massive, elongated, 10 storey enormity, part of the skyline of Leith, usually referred to as the “Banana Flats” due to its distinctive curved design. In fact, the flats are only 9 stories high, the bottom storey is actually called Cables Wynd.
A lot of people became aware of the flats because, rightly or wrongly, the name became synonymous with rampant drug abuse during the Aids epidemic of the 1980s. However there’s more to this very unusual building than the Grade 1 listing bestowed on it, by heritage chiefs in 2017.
It was built (between 1963 and 1965) in the Brutalist tradition, popular among younger architects at the time, as part of an ambitious post-war urban redevelopment scheme to replace the notoriously overcrowded Victorian and Edwardian tenements, including the original Cables Wynd.
By the 1960s, the council were committed to rehousing people in high quality schemes to give people a healthier, securer form of housing. However, in a high density area packed with families, new housing solutions had to be high density too. Step forward the colossal Cables Wynd House.
These modern, brutalist concrete megastructures were the brainchild of a Swiss-French architect and urban planner called Le Corbusier, who came up with the concept of the ville radieuse - the vertical city.
A lot of thought went into the flats. For example; underfloor heating, lifts, innovative ventilation, rubbish chutes and the long walkways linking the flats to replicate the community feel of the streets around the tenements it was replacing.
In 2017, a resident said: “When my mum came to visit, she said it looked like a prison because of the long corridors,. but I like it here a lot…. They’re very unusual.”
The building was designed by Alison & Hutchinson & Partners under the leadership of Robert Forbes Hutchinson. It contains 212 flats. All but 5 of the flats remained in public ownership as of 2015.
Which brings us to the book Brutal Britain - published by Zupagrafika at £18.99 - offering you the chance to build your own Banana Flats along with 8 other British buildings in the brutalist style… And if you use a decent glue, your pop up models could survive longer than some of the original buildings did! ■