By Jill Lawless
LONDON — The 1996 Atlanta games had Muhammad Ali lighting the Olympic flame, while London 2012 featured James Bond skydiving with the queen. Organizers of this year’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow want to bring down the house with an opening ceremony that is, literally, explosive.
They announced Thursday that the games July 23 opening will include the live destruction of five high-rise towers that dominate the Scottish city’s skyline. Five of the six remaining blocks in the Red Road housing complex will be demolished by 2,756 pounds of explosives in a 15-second “blow-down,” broadcast live on a giant screen at the Celtic Park stadium. Residents of 887 nearby properties will be temporarily evacuated.
Ceremony chairwoman Eileen Gallagher said the destruction would show that Glasgow “is a city that is proud of its history but doesn’t stand still.”
The Red Road towers hold a complex place in Glaswegians’ hearts, symbols of postwar aspiration and urban decay. The eight buildings, 28 to 31 stories high, were built in the 1960s as modern replacements for the city’s notorious slum housing. But over the decades they became run-down emblems of urban deprivation and were slated for demolition; two have already been destroyed.
Their eerie urban landscape was the inspiration for Andrea Arnold’s 2006 movie thriller “Red Road,” about a surveillance-camera operator who stalks a figure from her past in the neighborhood. In 2010, when many residents had already moved out, three Russian asylum-seekers jumped to their deaths from one of the buildings.
David Zolkwer, artistic director for Glasgow 2014, said the event was intended as “a noble, respectful and celebratory send-off” for buildings that once housed thousands of people. “It’s a bold and confident statement that says ‘bring on the future,’ but it will also be an important opportunity for us to contemplate the many lives lived in the tower blocks over the last 50 years,” he said.