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    Memories, not brick and stone, actually make a building

    By Ian Morrison | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2020-10-22 08:02
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    Beijing is a city of contradictions, with part of it (within the area of the Second Ring Road) being very old and historical, while the parts of the city beyond that area have mainly been built in the last 30 years. Many people simply dismiss the tower blocks and concrete structures of the modern era, saying that they are "soulless" and have no meaning or significance.

    But that could be said about any building, no matter how "important" it is. At the end of the day, they are all just piles of brick and stone, aren't they? Buildings become important because they have a relevance to people, and often they are connected with people's memories and have a nostalgic significance.

    That's why I am sure that many of the people who have grown up in Beijing in the recent decades don't just look at the huge apartment buildings of the city as "soulless tower blocks", but instead they have many memories connected with them.

    When I was growing up in Scotland in the 1970s, we were going through a period of urban development not dissimilar to that which Beijing has seen in the last couple of decades, with lots of old substandard housing being demolished and modern housing (in many cases tower blocks) and many new towns being built in its place.

    Now the era of the tower block is starting to end in Scotland, so this is evoking a great deal of nostalgia for me. Not because I consider these buildings to be of any great architectural value. No, the reason is that buildings are as much about the people who live in them and the memories related to them.

    It might seem strange to have a sentimental attachment to some bricks and mortar. But I have had this feeling quite a lot since I heard the news recently that the flats in Clydebank that my grandparents lived in since they were built in 1971 until my granddad passed away in 2015, are going to be demolished in the next five years. Some of my earliest memories are times at these flats, being taken there to visit my grandparents when I was a preschooler.

    Coming from a small town in Ayrshire on the train to Clydebank was always a great adventure when I was a little kid. I lived in a little semi-detached bungalow, so going to this "huge" (15 floors) building and in a lift up to my grandparents' 13th-floor flat almost seemed like something out of a science fiction movie.

    There's so many memories I have of that flat when I was a little boy of just 3 or 4: sitting on a little footstool watching the television, being warned by my granny not to go too near the kitchen window (as it was lower than others in the flat). There were also the lovely walks in the local park with my granddad to feed the ducks, but sometimes I would get told off for eating the bread.

    There were also just little snippets of memory, like waiting for my granddad to come home from work while I was watching The Magic Roundabout on the television. I spent lots of memorable times there, hearing my grandparents reminiscences about their childhood and youth on Clydeside in the 1920s and 30s, and the "blitz" in 1941, when Clydebank was bombed for two consecutive nights by the German air force during World War II.

    They didn't talk much about the "blitz", but even in the 1970s you could see the effects of the German bombings with the rows of tenement buildings that would come to an abrupt end and the outlines of the fireplaces of the destroyed homes still visible on the wall.

    The building of the houses and flats in Clydebank in the postwar era represented a renewal of the town after its destruction in World War II, and the tower block where my grandparents lived was also representative of that. Buildings, in the same way as people, have a life span, but the memories will live forever.

    Ian Morrison



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