A long way down: the nightmare of JG Ballard’s towering vision

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A long way down: the nightmare of JG Ballard's towering vision
‘A sense of instability’ … the towers of the film High-Rise
A long way down: the nightmare of JG Ballard's towering vision
‘A sense of instability’ … the towers of the film High-Rise

The 1975 novel High-Rise depicted an apocalyptic tower that drove its inhabitants insane. As a new film adaptation hits cinemas, we wonder what the author would have made of today’s rash of skyscrapers for the megarich

Dressed from head to toe in white, standing in his private garden on the roof of his latest tower block while his wife rides a white horse around its manicured lawn, Anthony Royal is the perfect symbol of the megalomaniac modernist architect. The villainous protagonist of JG Ballard’s 1975 novel High-Rise presides like a puppet-master over his “crucible for change”, a brave experiment in vertical living that quickly unravels into a concrete dystopia, driving its residents to madness in the floors beneath his feet.

First published when the 40-storey concrete towers of the Barbican Centre were being erected on London’s skyline, High-Rise caught the popular imagination at a time when suspicion of top-down postwar city planning was growing. “A hideous warning,” was the quote taken from the Guardian review emblazoned on the book’s cover, suggesting that Ballard’s intention was a damning critique of the inhumane direction modern architecture had taken.

The writer seems to slot neatly into a narrative that begins with Jane Jacobs’s attack on the alienating effect of towers and defence of traditional neighbourhoods, and culminates with Alice Coleman’s 1985 report Utopia on Trial, which framed tower blocks as incubators of crime and antisocial behaviour. […]

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