The Banana Flats

This is what we see from our backyard. It has a certain magnificence. Magnificent squalor. 

The building, known locally as “the Banana Flats” due to its elegant spinal curvature, is the setting for Tommy-Boy’s melancholy death from AIDS in the novel Trainspotting. For the film, all the housing estate stuff was shot in Glasgow, for ease of access to technicians, equipment, and funding (the Glasgow Film Fund, which encourages shooting in that city, has no Edinburgh equivalent). Ewan MacGregor runs along Princes Street in scene one to convince us we’re in Edinburgh, then the whole movie ups sticks for Glasgow. It’s a shame, because the slums of Edinburgh have their own distinct character. It could be argued that the bad areas of any western city are more or less alike in their essentials, but the same is true for the tourist spots and rich areas. It’s the details that count.

This great concrete boomerang, which channels any sound, from a pin-drop to a demented scream, directly into our bedroom window, has been known to exert a malevolent influence on its tenants. While many of them are delightful people, quite a few have their share of problems to begin with — they all get shunted into this building by the council, so the social worker only has to park their car once.

Legend has it that a post-natally depressed mother threw her baby from an upper window in the ’80s.

Since we’ve lived opposite the Hell-Block, we’ve seen TV sets, chair legs, stereos, methadone bottles, and used nappies rain from its balconies.

Of course, it’s a listed building, meaning that it’s been judged to be of such architectural excellence that it can never be demolished…

Us and Them.


14 Responses to “The Banana Flats”

  1. Reminds me of a gritty version of Playtime!

  2. Yeah, they get images of Edinburgh Castle and the Scott Monument reflected in their doors!

  3. gosh didn’t know it was listed – is it open for Open Doors Day? Why oh why isn’t there a scarcasm sign for the internets. I once filmed in the Grampian Flats in Granton now demolished and some architects apparently wanted them preserved as well…

    Even the tenement flat that Renton goes to with wotserface is obviously a weegie tennement … the lack of real locations really made Trainspotting more like the extended pop prom it was… mutter mutter

  4. would like to say that the Banana flats residence always do Christmas lights well! Even though I suspect they are the ones dragging shoping trollies with fireballs of fames across leith links as I have observed near November…

  5. That seems possible. Poor folks take their holidays SERIOUSLY.

    The noisy ones seem to be at their noisiest right now, late summer. Even though we haven’t really had a summer.

  6. Horrible yet so cinematic.

    Reminds me of the retro-future estate half way down Cold Harbour Lane near where I used to live in Brixton. Known as The Barrier Block, the story is that it was built as a noise-barrier against a proposed inner ring road for the wealthier residents of nearby Dulwich.

  7. That’s a fantastic story. Reminds me of David Farrar’s architecture in Beat Girl.

    The Banana Flats act more as a noise cannon, blasting sound at US.

  8. Was searching for a picture of the Banana flats…. I never knew it was the setting for the death of Tommy in Train spotting, always though that was set in the other side of town… Learn something new every day!

  9. i live in the flats.
    but “poor people”20/09
    i’m a Landscape architect student at Edinburgh uni.

  10. The flats are currently being “done up”, giving locals another reason to resent them: power drills at 8am. I don’t know how audible they are in the building, but nearby…

  11. i live in the flats and the noise from the renovation is really bad but these flats have not been touched in 40 years since they were built and yeah the neighbours r bad but there is good to

  12. I’d favour demolition rather than renovation! The building’s kind of grand but kind of hideous, and its major design flaw is the way it channels sound so somebody can play a CD at 2am, wake the whole street, but be unidentified.

    But I’ve met some lovely people from the flats: it’s quite possible that the percentage of problem cases is no higher than any other local street/building, it’s just that the ones in there get natural amplification.

  13. mark forrest Says:

    I grew up in the Banana Flats in the 60’s and 70. Loved it. Amazing memories and met some incredible people. Our neighbour, when he was pissed, used to use our balcony to climb into his balcony when he forgot his keys! As a kid this scared the hell out of me!

  14. What floor was he on? That does sound scary. I interrupted a break-in once by calling the police. Someone had pushed a wheelie bin up to the building at 3 am and climbed into a first floor flat. They did it so noisily they probably woke half the neighbourhood. Cops came, they stayed hid, the door was battered in and the dogs turned loose on them.

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