National Trust goes East End tower block, innit?

Balfron Tower, Poplar 260914 © ∂å
Balfron Tower, Poplar 260914 © ∂å
Medieval aspect: Balfron lift tower

YOU’VE SEEN it as your limo or, uhm, red bus, takes you out of northeast London: the  concrete Balfron Tower, its 27 floors looming up just before you slip into the Blackwall Tunnel and under the Thames.

Now the National Trust is giving the public the chance to pore over it. The brutalist monstrosity/masterpierce (you decide) in Poplar will be used by the trust as a two-week popup show house.

The high-riser was designed by controversial modernist Ernö Goldfinger and completed in 1967.

Viewers will be able to walk around flat 130, where the Hungarian exile lived for two months in 1968, to demonstrate the loveliness of high-rise living.

Designers Wayne and Tilly Hemingway have furnished the architect’s flat in 1968 style.

You may be wondering about the name Goldfinger. It was immortalised in an early James Bond novel, movie and song. Bond writer Ian Fleming, furious about Goldfinger’s designs for houses in Hampstead, used the architect’s surname for the arch villain of his seventh novel.

According to colleagues, Goldfinger had an ego as big as his buildings and he could not help but sue Fleming.

Fleming’s publisher offered to make clear that all characters were fictitious, but the architect, realising that was standard publishing practice, was not mollified.

Fleming cheekily offered to change the villain’s name, but for some unstated reason Goldfinger did not like the proposed monicker: Goldprick.

The grade II-listed Balfron, and its companion piece, Trellick Tower, West London, is, says the trust, “testament to a moment when a vision of a utopian postwar Britain coincided with Brutalism…  intended to be a heroic architecture that sought to offer the best of design… to free people from the condemned slum housing and poor conditions still prevalent in 1960s Britain”.

Sadly, the ideals were not met: the concierges specified by the architect were never hired and the Balfron became a haunt of criminals.

Hemingway: 1968 stylee © DA
Hemingway: 1968 stylee

The tower popup is part of Balfron Season, a series of events presented by Bow Arts in association with Poplar HARCA, taking place around the tower.

David Altheer 240914

* Balfron Tower and Goldfinger flat tours (75 mins), St Leonards Road E14 0QT, Wed 1-Sun 5 Oct 2014 and Wed 8-Sun 12 Oct 2014, 11am, noon, 1pm, 2pm, 3pm, 4pm. Free. Pix ©

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