Under One Roof – Guest Blog by John Gilbert

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Too often, the familiar and everyday is taken for granted. If you live in urban Scotland, Georgian and Victorian tenements predominantly form the core of our cities, providing relatively spacious housing in a compact form which helps to support local trade, culture and communities.

We may have some knowledge of local landmarks, shops and public buildings, but too often we take for granted the ordinary, everyday tenement or flatted property and fail to see the qualities of an urban form that has stood the test of time. John Cleese’s remark about ‘half educated tenement scots’ is reflective of a perception that still exists today – not that Scots are half educated, but that tenements are somehow thought to be a poor, inadequate form of housing – which they clearly are not – provided they are maintained and managed.

Unfortunately, the majority of such flats are in need of some form of repair, many of urgent repair. One third of shared properties have no formal management support. Between one third and a half of pre1919 tenement flats are privately rented. Only one in three flat owners have a maintenance fund for their flat. Only one in three flat owners regularly maintain their roof. Over half of all flat owners only do roof repairs when it’s an emergency.

In Scotland, there are approximately 600,000 privately owned flats, forming almost forty percent of the housing stock. Flats which share a common roof, fabric and services take many forms and styles, including tenements, 4-in-a block cottage type flats to modern high rise.

Back in 1992, Annie Flint and I wrote “The Tenement Handbook” which was published by the RIAS and contained drawings and articles on how to identify repair problems and explain owners responsibilities for maintenance. We recognised it was out of date and that it only covered sandstone tenement types.

The new website www.underoneroof.scot aims to update the information and make it a useful resource for anyone who owns a flat in Scotland or is involved in trying to manage the repair of jointly owned housing.

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Edinburgh tenements with dormer, illustration by John Gilbert
Edinburgh tenements with dormer, illustration by John Gilbert[/caption]

The site has over 100 drawings, 200 photographs and a ‘Repair Symptoms Checker’ to help owners pin down what is affecting their building’s health. Downloadable model letters will make the whole process easier for owners. Advice on dealing with owners who refuse to participate in critical repairs is also provided.

Although we had a steering committee (chaired by past president of the RIAS Iain Connelly) and received feedback on all the drafts, it was often difficult to try to tailor the website to ensure it was not over technical. We wanted to ensure it was still sufficiently detailed to provide useful information and advice to people who sometimes have little knowledge (or indeed interest) in the maintenance of the roof or walls within which their flat exists.

More emphasis has to be placed on how we maintain our housing stock, particularly in this era of climate change. In the forty years since 1961, winter rainfall in most of Scotland has increased by more than 100% with the West of Scotland taking the worst of it. Gutters that are blocked with plants are a common sight. Sandstone walls that never dry out are become an increasing problem, most evident in the rusting and expansion of iron cramps that were often used to hold stone lintels together at bays.

The site has been promoted by the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS) as part of the Festival of Architecture 2016. The website is sponsored by both public (27 Scottish Local Authorities) and private sector organisations. The wide raft of funding enables the site to remain impartial and independent.

John Gilbert

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oriel defects, illustration by John Gilbert
oriel defects, illustration by John Gilbert[/caption]

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