We've encountered lots of London's tower blocks and many of them have moved me in one way or another but none had taken my breath away. That is, till I 'met' the Balfron Tower. One sunny day in January, the three of us scooted down the DLR to the Brownfields Estate and before I even stood infront of its crowning glory, the Balfron Tower made me feel giddy. I was in awe.
Our story with the Balfron begun like many other of our tower block tales. Hiro talked at length about it and I half listened and now and again, I even glanced at it from a distance quite unaffected by its magnitude. All that changed that January day.
The Balfron is up there with the most celebrated examples of surviving Brutalist buildings. It was designed by Erno Goldfinger and completed in 1967. He actually moved in to a flat on the top floor for 2 months and hosted parties for the tower's residents where he discussed their likes and dislikes of the design. He went on to implement what he learned in the design of the more famous Trellick Tower in west London. Goldfinger shared Corbusier's vision of 'streets in the sky' and so the Balfron is ruled with impressive raised walkways connecting the services tower to the residences.
Goldfinger wrote extensively about the emotional effect of architecture. The Balfron encapsulates much of this emotion I think because it is impossible for a person to stand a the foot of the tower and not feel something. For me, much of the awe I felt was spoilt with a bitter taste.
Murmurings of the council betraying the residents. Lies being told and homes being underhandedly taken are so upsetting to hear about. It is all such a sorry situation and it makes me so cross. So cross in fact that I have been unable to write a coherent venom-less blog post about the Balfron till now.
The Balfron's tale is now turning a new chapter. One that is in stinging synchronicity with the rest of London, and it tells of greed, a housing shortage that has made historically poorer neighbourhoods and even once scorned tower blocks so desirable. Goldfinger would never have seen this coming would he? He designed the tower and much of the Brownfield Estate for people who needed council housing and now his name will be used to attract buyers who can afford the astonishing price tags that they will no doubt demand. 'Astonishing', that's a good word...perhaps we would feel a lot of things but astonished is almost certain to be a primary one.
| Balfron Tower Info |
- Architect Erno Goldfinger.
- 26 Floors.
- Comprises of 146 homes.
- Completed in 1967.
- Grade II Listed.
- London Borough of Tower Hamlets.
| Links for the curious |