20th century, architecture

Ernö Goldfinger, Balfron Tower (1968)

October 6, 2014

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It’s been a sheltered low-rise sort of upbringing for this blogger. So the chance to ride a steel elevator up 24 floors to flat 130 of the Balfron Tower was not to be missed.

This masterpiece of social housing is Grade II listed, and the flat in question is a pop up showpiece of 1960s living brought to you for 10 days only by the National Trust.

The Tower is one of those once-seen, never-forgotten, but still out-of-the-way landmarks. Tell someone you’ve visited and you may have to qualify that with a description.

In other words, mention the concrete, the height, the service tower, the streets in the sky. It may trigger the recall of an Oasis video, a Danny Boyle film, a JG Ballard novel.

But you don’t need to be an artiste to recognise the appeal of the building. You just have to love a certain rationalism. The architect loved columns and beams, and to simply show those off.

It seems totally unfair that Ernö Goldfinger had his good name swiped by Ian Fleming for the seventh novel in the James Bond series. The man was a hero not a villain.

Shortly after the completion of his visionary tower block in Poplar, Goldfinger moved in to Flat 130 and, floor by floor, invited round residents for Champagne and consultation.

He moved out circa 1968, at which point the incoming family might well have tricked out the interior in the style you can now find it in thanks to the National Trust.

The 75-minute tour culminates in a fifteen minute opportunity to poke around, with something like envy, among the Beatles records and vintage cereal packets.

Although the inhabitants’ prized posession was the view. Floor to ceiling windows at every available point afforded stunning views across what is now 21st century London.

The balcony is a spot to make inhabitants feel kingly or queenly. And the balustrade doubles as a trough of earth in which they could grow flowers or even vegetables.

Naturally it is made out of concrete, as is most of the building, and yet it makes one feel safe. You wonder how this material got such a bad rap, along with the corresponding Utopian dreams.

If you’re not already booked on to a tour between the 8 and 12 October, bad luck. They are sold out. But Balfron tower and the nearby Lansbury Estate are still worth a look round.

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