Th e high-rise tower block is an ambiguous construction: a much-maligned architectural form yet a persistent symbol of modernity and aspiration. It is also a fulcrum for discourses about urban failure, broken communities, widening urban inequality, and insecurity. Recent tower block disasters, from the Grenfell Tower fire in London to high-rise collapses in Nairobi, have intensified such debates. In this introduction to the theme section, we explore “tower block failure” as both event and discourse. Engaging with scholarship on global urbanism, verticality, and failure as a generative force, we highlight the particular discursive, social, political, and material constellations of “failure” as it manifests in relation to tower blocks. We propose that exploring what failure sets in motion—following what failure does, rather than what it means—can help inform our understanding of urban transformation.
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