Balfron Tower: a building archive
Site:

This website brings together public documents related to Balfron Tower.

These include adverts, architectural history accounts, archival records, art projects, blog articles, conservation management plans, council minutes, documentary films, feature films, financial viability reports, freedom of information requests, health reports, listing nominations, literary fiction, music videos, planning applications, press articles, promotional videos, public lectures, regeneration strategies and resident oral history testimonies.

These documents can be intimidating; difficult to access because they are hidden behind archival protocols, journal subscription costs and labyrinthine planning portals; or difficult to understand because of bureaucratic, academic or legal language. The lack of clarity and certainty can be a source of further discomfort for those caught up in complex and contested processes of urban change. 

This website aims to open these documents and processes to the public and help contribute to a more informed public debate. It works as follows:

These red tabs at the top explain the setting, sources and subject of the website. Images appear beside text with a small arrow.

The documents are arranged chronologically. Key documents in the timeline are indicated by a red star. Within each document page, selected quotes are transcribed in blue type, explanatory comments are in green, and comments from external contributors are in red. Wherever possible, complete versions of the documents can be downloaded in full. These documents open in a new window.

The filter section comprises a list of questions, each of these selects relevant documents from the timeline and assembles quotes which act to provide a response. The questions are loosely grouped around three subjects; the experience of living in Balfron Tower; opinions of the tower from those outside; and how the ownership, architecture and occupancy of the tower will change following regeneration works. 

This website is responsive to the size of the browser window. For smaller text, reduce the width of the window. 

The project is part of ongoing doctoral research at the Bartlett School of Architecture by David Roberts. The design is by Duarte Carrilho da Graça.

Setting:

The tower marks the eastern edge of the Brownfield Estate in Poplar.

It is home to 136 one- and two-bedroomed flats and 10 maisonettes arranged on 26 storeys. Its central architectural and social move is to separate these homes from the services (lifts, rubbish chutes and boiler room) as well as communal facilities for different age groups (laundry rooms, jazz-pop room for teenagers, hobby room for older residents) in a detached circulation tower to symbolise and generate new ways of communal interaction. 

It was designed by architect Ernö Goldfinger in 1963 for the London County Council and built in 1965-7 by the Greater London Council.

Following a stock transfer vote, ownership of the Brownfield Estate was transferred from Tower Hamlets Council to Poplar Housing and Regeneration Community Association in 2007 under the condition they bring all dwellings in the estate up to decent homes standard as part of regeneration works. 

From October 2010 residents of Balfron Tower were sent notice that the refurbishment would require them to move out due to fire safety and other risks, with no undertaking on whether social rented tenants would be able to return.

Balfron Tower is home to generations of people who have lived in its 146 flats. It is also the subject of news articles, the setting for films, the stage for artworks, the symbol of architectural ideals, and the site of a regeneration scheme, all of which tell a chorus of different stories often distanced from the everyday lives of its residents.

Balfron Tower's address is St Leonards Road, E14 0QT. If you wish to visit, the nearest DLR stations are All Saints and Langdon Park. It is served by buses: 15, 115, D6, D7, D8. You can find it on a map and in birds eye view.

Source:

Architect Ernö Goldfinger conducted public-facing research and dissemination which act as a source of inspiration for this project.

Balfron Tower was designed and constructed in the 1960s, a decade when council housing reached new peaks in provision and height, but the towers were often system-built and engineer-designed. This prompted Ernö Goldfinger and his wife Ursula to move from their home in Hampstead to a flat at the top of the tower for the first two months after its opening in 1968 in what he termed a sociological experiment

He did so to demonstrate his faith in high-rise living and to gather empirical evidence from the new tenants about their experience of the flats. He did so by speaking to them individually as well as inviting them in groups floor-by-floor to his penthouse for regular champagne parties where the Goldfingers’ mingled with notepads, collating opinions on the new homes in order to document and remedy design issues. Goldfinger’s act of research became a public performance, taking the building and its residents as evidence.

In the same spirit of public research, I collaborated with resident Felicity Davies, oral historian Polly Rogers, and theatremaker Katharine Yates to reenact these champagne parties and resident meetings at Balfron Tower with a group of thirty current and former residents in 2013-14. In these performative workshops we asked residents the same questions as Ernö and Ursula Goldfinger did 46 years later as some were preparing to leave the tower, uncertain if they would be able to return. Some of the reports on this website derive from these workshops and ongoing oral history interviews, drawing from residents’ own words to identify the aspects of the building they value and convey how unique design features have framed their everyday experiences.

Following his eight-week stay, Goldfinger wrote a detailed report to the Greater London Council which begins, “The success of any scheme depends on the human factor - the relationship of people to each other and the frame of their daily life which the building provides.” It is beyond the scope of this website to attempt the difficult and elusive task of assessing success. Throughout the shifting course of opinion, both expert and popular, certain judgments of Balfron Tower have been accepted uncritically – correlating its architecture of dramatic proportions with a way of life as stark and severe, ill suited to the needs of families and at a high density in which socialisation is difficult. 

Instead, this website takes its inspiration from the Goldfingers’ other brief residency. Ernö and Ursula spent weekends after his retirement at the archives of the Royal Institute of British Architects curating over 500 boxes of material. Plans, sections and elevations sit alongside letters to inquisitive members of the public, press cuttings, and receipts for furniture loaned and wine purchased during their stay at the tower. This final act may be interpreted as Goldfinger curating his own legacy but it is clear he accommodated the voices of others amongst his own accounts, without mediation of opinions no matter how dissenting (though perhaps this is too generous as he seems to always have the last word).

It is in this ethos of openness and sharing that I wish to provide access to the various documents I have drawn from during my research as a form of online archive building.

Study:

This study has involved archival research and discourse analysis alongside oral history interviews and performative group events with thirty current and former residents of Balfron Tower. The aim is to explore policy, planning and financial information alongside collecting opinions and experiences of residents. 

These residents comprise a wide range of tenure types: social rented, leaseholders, shorthold tenancies, property guardians, artists on live-work schemes; some of whom moved in 46 years ago as work on the tower was still being completed above them, some as recently as the beginning of 2014; and whose homes span the full height of the tower, from the ground to 26th floor. 

The project is part of ongoing doctoral research and practice by David Roberts at the Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL into the history and future of two east London public housing estates undergoing regeneration - the Haggerston Estate, Hackney and Brownfield Estate, Poplar. The work aims to make public the act of research and processes of urban change to those experiencing it through long-term critical practices of engagement and collaboration on site. 

This study was approved by the Chair of the UCL Ethics Committee and this website was designed and developed thanks to a grant from The Bartlett School of Architecture’s Architecture Research Fund. It was developed from 2013-14 and launched in April 2015. 

The work at Balfron Tower has fed into a Listing upgrade nomination submitted to English Heritage and a new archive box to be built collectively and donated to the RIBA Collection held at the V&A. 

Share:

My aim is to share access to help build a fuller understanding of the communities and spaces that make Balfron Tower a home. I hope this project can encourage exchange and new forms of interpretive engagement.

If you would like to contribute any material that is not featured here; provide a document, add a external comment to a document, suggest a question, offer feedback, or ask questions, please email to keep this ongoing work in motion.

If you draw upon the material featured in the site for further research or dissemination please reference appropriately. All quotes from the documents are written in blue type, all explanatory comments written by me are in green, all comments from external contributors are in red. If you would like to share material you have written, please email and I will include works that have emerged from this site in the timeline.

I will update this section with links to other housing references and resources. For the moment I would like to share links to the work of others who have provided inspiration - 35% Campaign, Archive for Change, Just Space, Loretta Lees’ Antipode research, Mapping London's Housing StrugglesMunicipal Dreams, Single Aspect and Southwark Notes Archive Group.

Image credits: Balfron Tower: RIBA Library Photographs Collection; Design for Balfron Tower west elevation with circulation tower: RIBA Library Drawings & Archives Collections; Ernö Goldfinger: Hulton Archive/Daily Express/Getty Images; Ernö Goldfinger, Desmond Plummer and Horace Cutler at the beginning of the Goldfingers' sociological experiment: Hulton Archive/Daily Express/Getty Images.


Filter

Questions

Who lives in Balfron Tower?
What does it feel like to live in the tower?
Why did Ernö and Ursula Goldfinger briefly move in?
How did Ernö Goldfinger describe it?
What have others said about Balfron Tower?
Where does it appear in fiction?
Why is it listed?
How does it compare with Trellick Tower?
Who owns and maintains Balfron Tower?
Will residents be able to return to their flats in the tower following the refurbishment works?
What repair works does it require?
Where have former residents moved to?
Will there be a net gain or loss of social rented accommodation within the Brownfield Estate following regeneration works?

Document types

Archive Artwork Audio Book Film Legal Listing Planning Press Survey

The current residents of Balfron Tower comprise a mixture of social rented tenants, leaseholders, private rented tenants, artists on live-work placements and property guardians. To understand why there is this diversity of residents it is necessary to look back historically.

The tower’s 146 flats and maisonettes were first occupied by tenants of the Greater London Council (GLC) almost all of whom qualified for subsidised rent. These families used to live in the houses demolished to make way for the Blackwall Tunnel Approach roads and in accommodation deemed unsuitable, likely to have been damaged by the Blitz. The families were re-housed street by street, and only two came from outside of Tower Hamlets. Former neighbours were rehoused in flats sharing a common access gallery so as to maintain community spirit. Among this first crop of occupants were Ernö and Ursula Goldfinger, who lived in Flat 130 for two months from February 1968.

When ownership of the tower transferred from the GLC to Tower Hamlets Borough Council in the 1980s, these 146 residents became council tenants. Following the introduction of the Right to Buy, as part of legislation passed in the Housing Act 1980, some tenants took the opportunity to buy their flats from the council to become leaseholders. Some leaseholders live in their flats, some have moved and rent their flat out to private tenants.

In 2007, ownership of the tower passed to Poplar Housing and Community Regeneration Association (HARCA) under the condition they bring all dwellings in the estate up to decent homes standard as part of regeneration works. As a result of this change, council tenants became known as tenants on social rent or secured tenancy. When Poplar HARCA took over, 99 flats were occupied by tenants on social rent, 36 flats were owned by leaseholders and 11 were empty, though it is most likely that these were still allocated for social rent.  

Since 2008, the tower has been designated 'decant status' to prepare for refurbishment works which require all residents to move from the building. As long-term tenants and leaseholders have moved, their flats have been occupied on a temporary basis by short-term residents under a number of different schemes; artists on live-work placements under Bow Arts Trust; short-life tenants with Phoenix Community Housing Cooperative; and property guardians with Dot Dot Dot and Ad Hoc. The precise numbers of residents in the tower under each temporary placement scheme have not been made publicly available.

In 2014 a number of cultural programmes took place in the tower. During these, contributing practitioners and visitors have stayed in the tower for short periods of time, either with artists on the live-work placement or in flats vacated for this purpose. For example, 45 volunteers to the British Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale stayed in the tower during a training week in April 2014, as did 10 architects during the International Architecture Showcase in June 2014. For RIFT’s site-specific Macbeth performance at the tower, audiences stayed overnight in empty flats from June to August 2014. 

Refurbishment works will begin in 2015. Some leaseholders have agreed to pay a contribution to the works so they can return to their flats in the tower. The precise numbers of leaseholders that have elected to do so have not been made publicly available. No social rented tenants have been permitted to return to their flats in the tower. The remainder of the flats will be sold under Balfron Tower Developments, a joint venture between Poplar HARCA, United House Developments and Londonewcastle.

Throughout Balfron Tower’s 47 years of occupation there are very few publicly accessible accounts from residents. 

During the public attention that surrounded Ernö and Ursula Goldfinger’s brief residency in 1968, a number of the first tenants were interviewed by national and international journalists, all of whom speak favourably of their new homes and communal life in the tower in spite of some early issues with draughty windows, lack of doorbells, and heating services that did not work properly. These many compliments and few snags are echoed in the interviews and notes available in the Goldfingers’ diaries and reports.

Some negative accounts begin to appear a decade later which coincide with a marked change in GLC policy on high-rise living, noting an increase in vandalism and anti-social behaviour. These negative attributes were exaggerated and embellished in the many films and TV dramas set on the estate in the following decades, which brought more immediate issues of intrusive filming schedules and unsightly leftover props.

Despite the renewed press attention that has accompanied recent plans for refurbishment, there is still a lack of residents’ voices, perhaps as many of them have already moved from the tower. A document that accompanied the stock transfer vote in 2006, stated that in Balfron Tower and neighbouring Carradale House, "consultation undertaken has shown that approximately half of the residents in the two blocks said that they would prefer to move out", which suggests approximately half would prefer to stay put - around 117 households between the two buildings. Without further information on this consultation it is difficult to discern the reasons underlying residents preference to stay or move. In accounts that are available (which includes oral history testimonies conducted in the last three years as part of this project, and which will be added to this website in full), current and former residents speak openly about the problems and joys of living in Balfron as the tower has witnessed wider changes in the area with the building of Canary Wharf and new populations.

The building's two lifts form the subject of most complaints, both of which were often faulty in the tower's early years, and never appear to have been quick or reliable enough. They stand for the lack of sufficient funds for repair and improvement that has afflicted the building in spite of decades of demands from residents, leading to concrete spalling, corroded wiring conduits, leaking pipes and vermin infestations. Long-term residents lament the closure of underground car parks, laundry rooms and communal spaces but observe that anti-social behaviour was curtailed by the installation of a door-entry system. 

Residents also speak eloquently in appreciation of architectural details and collective experiences. This includes the well-proportioned flats, generous sense of light and space, and importance of the view that has become vital to their sense of belonging, identity and engagement with the city. For some, the tower's nine corridors encourage an unanticipated spirit of neighbourliness, a quality abundant in the Brownfield Community Cabin at the foot of the tower with its long-standing club and programme of activities, and particular praise is reserved for the community-spirited caretaker who tended to Balfron's spaces and residents with humour and devotion for a great period of the building's life.

Balfron Tower has historically divided opinion between those that view it as a thrilling building with carefully crafted detailing and egalitarian ideals, and those that view it as too forbidding to be suitable and sociable. 

Throughout the shifting course of opinion, both expert and popular, certain judgements of Balfron Tower have been accepted uncritically – correlating its architecture of dramatic proportions with a way of life as stark and severe, ill suited to the needs of families and at a high density in which socialisation is difficult. The majority of these judgements appear not to have been informed by resident testimony that can speak with personal experience of the social relations and communal interactions the tower has generated. 

Architectural historians have long admired the image and ideals of the tower, though their accounts also tend to lack a voice from residents. The tower’s popularity has grown as post-war architecture has been reappraised in the last decade, spurring a flurry of new press and blog articles. These vary from well-researched accounts to a remarkable number of ill-informed and inaccurate accounts that disagree on simple details - Balfron’s height, age, and even name. 

Balfron Tower has been the setting for the films 'Shopping' featuring Jude Law, 'Greenwich Mean Time' with Chiwetel Ejiofor, '28 Days Later' by Danny Boyle and 'Blitz' starring Jason Statham; TV dramas 'Hustle', 'Fixer' and 'Whitechapel'; the video to Oasis' 'Morning Glory'; and is purported to form the inspiration of JG Ballard’s novel 'High Rise' with an architect who lives in the penthouse. Residents on the Estate Board recently stopped plans to film Brad Pitt’s 'World War Z'. Balfron’s representations notably go beyond typical kitchen sink dramas set in housing estates to fictive dystopian wastelands of feral gangs and zombies. 

Tower Hamlets Film Office markets seventeen of the Borough’s public housing estates as potential film locations. It promotes concrete walkways, ‘imposing’ towers, ‘highly visible examples of Brutalist architecture’ and underground car parks that offer ‘self contained urban, gritty location[s]. Gloomy light, rich textures and a littered dusty environment creat [sic] fantastic atmosphere.’

Listing is a way of recognising and protecting when a building is of special architectural or historic interest. Listing does not mean that a building cannot be changed, but it does mean that consideration needs to be given to make sure that any changes do not diminish this special interest. Anyone can suggest a building for listing. Historic England (the public body formerly known as English Heritage) will examine the case and put forward recommendations to the UK Government’s Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) which makes the listing decision. 

Balfron Tower was listed Grade II in March 1996. 

In the 1996 listing description, English Heritage identify Balfron as a "well planned and beautifully finished" tower with a "distinctive profile that sets it apart from other tall blocks" accommodating marble and tiled interiors that are "unusually well thought-out", "revealing Goldfinger as a master in the production of finely textured and long-lasting concrete masses."

In August 2014, I worked with James Dunnett of DOCOMOMO to write a listing upgrade nomination for all of Ernö Goldfinger's buildings and spaces at the Brownfield Estate.

Balfron Tower was upgraded to Grade II* in October 2015. 

Historic England and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport accepted our bid and upgraded Balfron's listing to Grade II* and Glenkerry House to Grade II.​ In the updated listing description, Historic England state: "Balfron Tower was designed as a social entity to re-house a community, according with Goldfinger's socialist thinking.” And among their ‘principal reasons' for listing, they note: “Architectural interest: a manifestation of the architect’s rigorous approach to design and of his socialist architectural principles” and "Social and historic interest: designed to re-house a local community”.

Our reasons for the nomination include:

  • Goldfinger’s buildings and spaces on the Brownfield Estate are already protected by the Conservation Area, but only Balfron Tower and Carradale House are listed. All of these should be listed at the same level of listing as Trellick Tower in North Kensington, including specifically the spaces between the buildings which can be vulnerable to development pressures, to recognise the exceptional architectural qualities of Goldfinger's work on the estate.  
  • A Grade 2* level of listing would ensure that Historic England was actively involved in assessing any application for listed building consent for alterations or additions of any kind (which otherwise would be at the discretion of the local authority) and could make additional funding available via Historic England and might perhaps make it more possible for DCMS to help funding for refurbishment within the social housing sector.
  • The current listing descriptions of Balfron Tower and Carradale House are inadequate and should be elaborated on to include all their ancillary buildings, reflect the social elements in the design and preserve the social purpose of this housing.

In support of this final point I produced a supplementary document devoted to residents’ experiences, drawing from residents’ own words to identify the aspects of the building they cherish and convey how unique design features have framed their everyday experiences. Owen Hatherley wrote a statement in support of the listing upgrade.

Balfron is commonly referred to as the ‘sister’ or ‘twin’ to Trellick Tower. The distinctive profiles of the two high-rises are often mistaken for one another, but it is useful to identify distinctions in the buildings and how their residents have fared.

Geography: The two towers are said to ‘book-end’ London; In the East End, Balfron Tower marks the eastern edge of the Brownfield Estate in Poplar, beside the Blackwall Tunnel approach road; in the West End, Trellick Tower marks the northern point of the Cheltenham Estate in North Kensington, close to the elevated Westway dual carriageway. 

Age: The London County Council (LCC) appointed Ernö Goldfinger to a list of approved architects for the council’s housing schemes in 1961. They commissioned him to design a housing estate in Poplar which he developed from 1962-3 into the 26-storey Balfron Tower, built in 1965-7. 

In 1966, the Greater London Council (GLC) had replaced the LCC, and commissioned Goldfinger for another housing estate in Kensington which included the 31-storey Trellick Tower, built in 1968-72.

Neighbouring buildings and spaces were added to the two sites by Goldfinger in subsequent years; two further phases of the Brownfield Estate in Poplar were built from 1967-75; the rest of the Cheltenham Estate in Kensington was built from 1969-73. 

Design: At first glance the buildings appear to be very similar. Their silhouettes are defined by separate circulation towers joined at every third floor by communal walkways and topped with projecting boiler rooms. 

Externally, the main difference is that Trellick Tower is four storeys taller than Balfron and with a slimmer circulation tower that has been rotated ninety degrees. These two changes lend Trellick a more elegant profile. Trellick is also linked to a seven storey ‘Block B’ where shops were located on street level.

Internally, Balfron comprises 146 flats and maisonettes, significantly fewer than Trellick’s 212. Trellick has the benefit of three lifts and slightly wider flat layouts with cedar-clad balconies spanning the entire width, not halfway as they are at Balfron. There are also changes in its detailing such as windows that swivel into the room for easier cleaning.

It is often stated that, from his experience of living in Balfron Tower for its opening two months from February 1968, Goldfinger made design alterations to Trellick. However, given the overlap in commission, design and build dates for the two towers, it is not clear whether there would have been sufficient time for Goldfinger to implement any significant changes based on his empirical and experiential research. Instead, it is likely that modifications were made to Trellick from the experience of constructing Balfron. 

Residency: Goldfinger always maintained that he designed his social housing ‘for himself’. While Goldfinger’s ‘sociological experiment’ at Balfron Tower is well known, his penchant for tasting his own cooking did not end there. He moved his own architectural practice into Block B, linked to Trellick Tower, from 1972 and was a daily visitor until retirement in 1977.

History: Residents in both towers have endured difficult periods from the late 1970s, but Trellick seems to have particularly suffered. It became known as ‘The Tower of Terror’, gaining a reputation for vandalism and crime, which mainly involved drug-dealing and drug-taking, but also included instances of sexual assault, prostitution, muggings, break-ins and rough sleeping. Like at Balfron, the installation of a door-entry system curtailed much of the anti-social behaviour and the tower became a cult landmark by the 1990s. 

Listing: Balfron Tower was awarded a Grade II listing in March 1996 and its neighbouring Carradale House was also listed at Grade II in December 2000. The rest of Goldfinger’s buildings and spaces at the Brownfield Estate are already protected by a Conservation Area but are not yet listed.

Trellick Tower was granted Grade II* listing in December 1998 and the rest of the Cheltenham Estate was listed at Grade II in November 2012. 

Representations: Many films and TV dramas have used Balfron and Trellick Tower as filming locations, though Trellick is notable for featuring in many music videos, and can even boast a reference in the lyrics of Blur’s 'Best Days' and Emmy The Great’s 'Trellick Tower'. 

In the film 'Shopping', shot at Balfron Tower, Sean Bean arrives for a brief cameo in a black Mercedes. "Look at this place," he mutters to his driver. "How do people live in this filth?" He walks along a ground floor corridor completely blanketed in graffiti, "This whole estate’s a disgrace."

In TV drama 'The Bill', the camera pans up Trellick Tower as a character asks, "Who’d want to live in that hell-hole?" Twenty-five of Trellick’s residents wrote in to the programme to reply, "We do."

Refurbishment: Both towers require internal and external refurbishment works. These are scheduled to begin at Balfron in 2015 by a joint venture between Poplar Housing and Regeneration Community Association (HARCA) and two private developers, Londonewcastle and United House Developments. 

Residents: The majority of flats at Trellick Tower are occupied by households on social rent - one recent blog states this is the case for 181 of the 217 flats, though I have not been able to cross-reference this fact. Similarly, according to different sources, between 99 and 110 of Balfron’s 147 flats were designated for social rent when the Poplar HARCA took over in 2007. However, following refurbishment works, no social rented households will be permitted to return to Balfron Tower.

Balfron Tower is currently owned and managed by a housing association, Poplar Housing and Regeneration Community Association (HARCA). This will change when refurbishment works have been approved as Poplar HARCA have formed a joint venture partnership with two private developers. Preceding this, there have been three previous changes of ownership between public administrations. The consequence of each of these five changes are significant. Each owner appears to have, at one stage, scheduled major refurbishment works to the tower but which have subsequently been shelved as the ownership has changed hands.

The tower was commissioned by the London County Council in 1963. This municipal body was replaced by the Greater London Council (GLC) in 1965, the year construction started on the tower. 

The GLC remained the owner from the completion of the tower in 1967 until the 1980s. To prevent the rents of GLC dwellings being raised in 1968, Tower Hamlets Borough Council unsuccessfully requested the transfer of all the GLC's housing within the Borough. 

Ten years later, in 1978, Balfron Tower was still under the ownership of the GLC when the tower was earmarked to join a GLC pilot scheme providing a ‘facelift’ to two high-rise blocks nearby in ‘an attempt to improve the quality of life for tenants who live in tower blocks’. I have yet to find evidence whether these works took place at Balfron.

The main stock transfers from the GLC to Tower Hamlets eventually took place in 1980 and 1981, but because of the sheer number of council homes, a delayed transfer took place on 1 July 1985. Following the transfer of all the GLC housing stock to the council, Tower Hamlets became the landlord of eight out of every ten homes in the Borough.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Tower Hamlets worked with independent architects to develop plans to improve access routes and security including a proposed new concierge building to be shared by Balfron Tower and Carradale House, but which were cancelled when stock transfer plans were first suggested.  

In 2007, ownership of the Brownfield Estate was transferred from Tower Hamlets to Poplar Housing and Regeneration Community Association (HARCA). This followed a  vote the previous year when 78.8% of tenants and 32.5% of leaseholders of of three estates - Teviot, Brownfield and Aberfeldy - voted in favour of a stock transfer under the condition Poplar HARCA bring all dwellings in the estate up to decent homes standard as part of regeneration works. 

Poplar HARCA remain sole owners of the tower, but in December 2014, Balfron Tower Developments, a joint venture between Poplar HARCA, United House Developments and Londonewcastle, was created to regenerate the building. These regeneration works are scheduled to begin in 2015.

Social rented tenants are not permitted to return to their flats in the tower following the refurbishment works. Leaseholders have been advised that "they will able to move back to Balfron Towers once the works are complete, providing they are able to pay their share of the refurbishment costs as required under the terms of the lease agreement. The terms of the current lease obliges the landlord to recharge the costs of any major works to the block to leaseholders."

Before the stock transfer vote in 2006, residents of the 146 flats of Balfron Tower and 88 flats of the neighbouring Carradale House were sent consultation documents, transfer agreements and a redevelopment video proposing that approximately 130 flats between the two buildings would be sold on the open market but that existing residents would have a "real choice" over their homes, creating "a mixed community within these buildings", "a mixed community of people who want to live in them". These documents can be viewed below. The Estates Offer stated that, in Balfron and Carradale, "consultation undertaken has shown that approximately half of the residents in the two blocks said that they would prefer to move out", which suggests approximately half would prefer to stay put.

In the years that followed the stock transfer vote, the option for social rented tenants to return to their flats following the refurbishment works changed. Tower Hamlets contended, "the global financial downturn is also having an impact on the deliverability of certain aspects of the scheme due to provide the required cross subsidy. Poplar Harca has been looking at alternative solutions and funding models to ensure they are able to achieve the promises made in the offer document."

From October 2010 to December 2014 Poplar HARCA publicly stated that it is "possible but not probable" that tenants will have a right of return. There appears to be a distinction between this statement repeated publicly and the organisation’s confidential financial viability documents and internal annual reports that attest, from August 2012, that "Balfron will become a leaseholder-only block" and converted "from a social rented block to all private sales".

Without any proposed flats on social or affordable rent, the commitment to creating a mixed community in the tower as a result of regeneration works also appears to have changed.

There is some information regarding where social rented tenants moved to but no information regarding leaseholders.

In terms of the former, Poplar HARCA have stated, of the 102 of the social tenancies in Balfron Tower, "71 of the households moved to other Poplar HARCA homes locally within E14. In fact 10 moved just next door to Carradale House. 18 remained locally within Tower Hamlets having successfully bid for social tenancies in E1, E2 and E3 which are only a ten minute bus ride away."

Of the 71 households that moved within E14, 10 moved to Carradale House but it is unknown how many moved to other buildings within the Brownfield Estate.

18 moved to postcodes E1, which is around Whitechapel, E2, which is around Bethnal Green, and E3, which is around Bow.

Poplar HARCA have not made available details of where the other 13 households on social rent moved to.

 

It isn’t possible to fully answer this question from the documents currently available. 

In response to this question, which I asked in December 2014, Poplar HARCA answered: "we've increased the number of social rented homes in Brownfield and across Poplar."

This does not appear to address the precise question posed, so I have looked at publicly accessible documents for more detail. 

The stock transfer document which set out the regeneration works in 2007 states that "overall there will be no loss of homes for rent on the Brownfield Estate." It does not state which type of rent - social, affordable or private.

Based on the public information to hand, I have been able to calculate there will be a net loss of between 42 and 83 social rented homes within the Brownfield Estate. 

This calculation is based on the following:

The Brownfield Estate
The Brownfield Estate comprises the following blocks:

  • Balfron Tower 1-146 St Leonards Rd; 
  • Brownfield St 1-43 (Odds); Brownfield St 132-154 (Evens); Brownfield St 2-60 (Evens); Brownfield St 45-107 (Odds); Brownfield St 62-128 (Evens);
  • Burcham St 2-24 (Evens); Burcham St 26-46 (Evens); Burcham St 48-94 (Evens) 
  • Carradale House 1-88 St Leonards Rd 
  • Langdon House 1-45 Ida St 
  • Lodore St 2-72 (Evens)
  • St Leonards Rd 52-74 (Evens); St Leonards Rd 27-39,27-35a,63-75,63-73a; St Leonards Rd 41-53,39-53a,77-89,77-89a; St Leonards Rd 19-25,19a-23a,55-61
  • Willis St 54-112 (Evens); Willis St 6-52 (Evens) 

Planning documents from 2011 identify the freehold of 669 of the Brownfield Estate’s 800 dwellings are owned by Poplar HARCA. Of these 669, 463 are tenanted, 206 are leasehold. 

There are no further records I have been able to source of numbers in each of the blocks of that comprise the estate. In any case, these figures are likely to have changed since Poplar HARCA took over because of tenants taking up the newly incentivised Right to Buy as discounts were increased in 2012 and 2013.

The only blocks that have been identified to face significant changes of tenure because of refurbishment works are new homes built on the estate, homes demolished to make way for these new builds, and Balfron Tower and Carradale House which were always singled out for changes because of their Grade II listed status. I will take each of these in turn.

New homes on the estate
New homes built as part of the regeneration works on the Brownfield Estate: 

  • 25 new homes for social rent were added in infill blocks built between existing blocks on the estate, 
  • 32 new family sized houses and flats for social rent were added in Ida & Follett Street. 
  • 22 family sized flats for shared ownership were added as part of the Panoramic building’s 112 homes, but whilst these are within the affordable homes bracket, they are not the same as social rent.

So there has been an addition of 25 + 32 = 57 social rented homes and 22 affordable homes.

Demolition to make way for new homes on the estate
To make way for these new builds homes, three sites containing homes were demolished; incorporating 15 rented studio flats, 13 rented one-bedroom units and 2 private one-bed units. This is a loss of 30 homes, but the tenure mix of these homes is not stated on the documents available. 

So the net addition of new build socially rented homes is 57 - (up to 30) = between 27 and 57 social rented homes.

The tenure mix in Balfron Tower before regeneration works
In a recent email, Poplar HARCA state, of Balfron Tower’s 146 dwellings, 102 were designated on social rent when they took over in 2007. This figure differs from that identified in a subsequent Freedom of Information request which states there were 99 households on social rent and 11 flats void. These 11 flats are likely to have been designated for social rent but, at that time, were unoccupied. No further figures are available.

So there were 99, 102 or 110 social rented households in Balfron Tower in 2007.

The tenure mix in Carradale House before regeneration works
According to the listed building application in 2010, Carradale House comprises of 88 dwellings, of which 20 are owned by leaseholders, which leaves 68 social tenancies. It goes on to state that the development proposals do not seek to alter any aspect of the tenure of the block.

So there were, and will be, 68 social rented households in Carradale House.

The tenure mix in Balfron Tower and Carradale House before regeneration works
So there were (99 to 102 to 110) + 68 = between 167 and 178 social rented households between the two blocks before regeneration works.

The tenure mix in Balfron Tower and Carradale House following regeneration works 
Internal financial documents and confidential viability reports state Balfron Tower will be turned into a leaseholder-only block, so it will lose between 99 and 110 secure rented homes because of this. 

Poplar HARCA state 10 secure tenants moved from Balfron Tower to Carradale House during the refurbishment works. Planning documents claim Carradale House will not alter any aspect of tenure, so there is no change to the 68 social tenancies in the block in spite of this move.

So there is a loss of between 99 and 110 social rented households from the two blocks.

Overall figures following regeneration works
To take the conservative estimate for each figure, and assume no social rented homes were demolished to make way for new builds, there will be:

a net loss of 99 - a net addition of 57 = a total loss of 42 social rented homes

To take the upper estimate for each figure, and assume all the homes demolished were on social rent, there will be:

a net loss of 110 - a net addition of 27 = a total loss of 83 social rented homes 

As previously stated, the transfer document states that overall there will be no loss of homes for rent on the Brownfield Estate. It does not state which type of rent - social, affordable or private. If it does refer to social rented homes, there is a shortfall of between 42 and 83 homes across the estate which should be designated for social rent. 

Please note these calcuations are a work in progress as complete figures have not yet been made available.

Documents

1960

Thumb 1961 archives
Archival records
Archive
Tower Hamlets Archives, 1961
Thumb 2014 03 original tenants of balfron tower
RIBA Archive records
Archive
Ernö and Ursula Goldfinger, 1968

Ernö Goldfinger, Press Report 13 May 1968
The following is the method which we used for arriving at the findings:

  1. Direct observation by ourselves (my wife and myself, living in the flat) and communicating with our neighbours.
  2. Reports from the Tenants’ Association.
  3. Clerk of the Works’ reports.
  4. Observations as an Architect regarding planning and future planning, and detailing.
Page(s): Ernö Goldfinger, Press Report 13 May 1968

These particular buildings have the great advantage of having as tenants, families with deep roots in the immediate neighbourhood. In fact, most families have been re-housed from the adjoining streets. Of the 160 families, all except two, came from the Borough of Tower Hamlets.

As far as possible, people from the same area were re-housed together - street by street.

The people who occupy these flats continue to work in the same jobs as before they moved; children go to the same schools as before.

Ernö Goldfinger, Letter 12 March 1968
I am finding my stay on the top floor of Rowlett Street Housing, a most interesting experience. Last week, I attended a meeting of the local tenants’ association where I explained the design and working of the flats and the tenants expressed their views. Of course, there are some teething troubles, but most problems were easily sorted out by explanation. Most of them just love the flats.

One advantage of this particular tall block is the magnificent view of the River Thames and its shipping. In fact, I feel rather reluctant to leave it and return to my own house in Hampstead.


Ernö Goldfinger, Letter 12 March 1968
Thank you for your nice letter. I can assure you that I am much enjoying living in the high building, overlooking the Thames and can understand your desire to do the same.


Ernö Goldfinger, Press Report 13 May 1968
Rowlett Street Housing
Press Conference on 14th May 1968

The observations fall into the following categories:

  1. Fundamental social considerations.
  2. Management considerations.
  3. Planning considerations.
  4. Detailing.
  5. Defects under guarantee to be remedied by the builder.

The following is the method which we used for arriving at the findings:

  1. Direct observation by ourselves (my wife and myself, living in the flat) and communicating with our neighbours.
  2. Reports from the Tenants’ Association.
  3. Clerk of the Works’ reports.
  4. Observations as an Architect regarding planning and future planning, and detailing.

SOCIAL CONSIDERATIONS:
The success of any scheme depends on the human factor - the relationship of people to each other and the frame to their daily life which the building provides. These particular buildings have the great advantage of having as tenants, families with deep roots in the immediate neighbourhood. In fact, most families have been re-housed from the adjoining streets. Of the 160 families, all except two, came from the Borough of Tower Hamlets.

The nine access corridors form so many East End pavements, on which the normal life of the neighbourhood continues. On 7 of these pavements there are 18 front doors while, on two levels - the ground floor and the 15th floor where there are maisonettes, there are 8 front doors. As far as possible, people from the same area were re-housed together - street by street.

The people who occupy these flats continue to work in the same jobs as before they moved; children go to the same schools as before.

The future: Provisions which are lacking, which are partly in the process of being remedied, are the common facilities. This is a delicate going which has been plaguing housing for half a century - the difficulty of deciding how much of the common facilities are attributable to housing proper and how much comes under other headings. This is, of course, an organisational problem which I had better not enlarge on….

The essential facilities which we are providing are those of the 24-hour cycle, which means the immediate surrounding of the building. These facilities vary by age group and interests. The following have been provided:

For the toddler in immediate contact with his mother; large terraces have been built in each flat, where the mother can supervise her small child or children from the dining/kitchen or the living room.

On the ground floor, for these same children and those of up to say 5 years old, there is a sunken play area with slides, towers, water and sandpit. These are to be completed by a supervised day nursery, placed in the proximity of this play area so that the whole thing can be supervised.

For teenagers, rooms have been built in the service tower, away from the dwellings for: a) table tennis and/or billiards. b) jazz/pop room. c) hobby room, which can also be used for older people. The administration of these space represents certain problems but, I understand that the Tenants’ Association is willing to take the responsibility.

For older people, a clubroom which is to be provided in conjunction with a day nursery in such a way that the facilities of the day nursery will enlarge those of the clubroom at night.

Here again, certain problems of organisation are involved but, it seems that they can be overcome.

The whole area of some 4 acres, has been made into a pedestrian precinct with underground garages and car access at low level.

MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS:
The management, on the whole, seems to be working well, which is not surprising in view of the GLC’s enormous experience over so many years.

Nevertheless, at the very beginning, a great mistake was made by not providing the tenants with adequate information about their new and unfamiliar building. This caused considerable trouble with such trivial things as: window cleaning, fixing curtain rails, use of central heating, availability of garages and storerooms.

The tenants were simply not told!

Explanatory leaflets have now been provided which have helped a lot.

There were other trivial organisational difficulties under this heading such as lighting the garages, access balconies and escape stairs.

PLANNING CONSIDERATIONS:
On the whole, the general disposition of the buildings and the flats are acceptable. I am prepared to repeat the same design in future schemes.

The main characteristic of the building is the separation of living quarters from the services. These latter are housed in a separate tower, connected to the flats by bridges. Thus, all noisy machinery, such as lift motors, water pumps, fire pumps, rubbish chutes etc. are 100% insulate from the dwellings.

Each dwelling is insulated from its neighbours, sideways, by a 9” concrete wall and, top and bottom, by a foot thick concrete floor, which is composed of 9” structural slab and 3” floating screed on a fibreglass blanket...

Ursula Goldfinger, Diary entry 24 March 1968
Mr. M. “I’ve made some new friends that we never would have meet before and we are very happy here. The heating is something we looked forward to for a long time and it can be altered, thing they will improve when the teething trouble’s and the blocks were getting are sorted out. There has been a lot said about being lonely in these tall flats - well - I don’t think so. My Wife doesn’t think so either. We have made new friends which we would never have meet before. Our own neibours [sic] even in the old houses delighted in being behind curtains and watching things but in this place they will come to the door and say “Good morning” or “Good afternoon” and even ask you different things even with your family but they’re not sitting behind the curtains.”

Mrs. M. “I’m perfectly happy here I wouldn’t change it for all the world, the people are very nice and my flat is beautiful I don’t need to have the electric light on at all because the place is so beautifully light. In fact I wished ‘d had the change to come here many years ago, had it been built.”

E.G. “How do you like the view Mrs. Macdonald?”

Mrs. M. “Absolutely marvellous, I really and truly pray for the evenings so that I can stand on my balcony and look at the beautiful lights.”

E.G. “Do you like your balcony or do you find it to [sic] windy?”

Mrs. M. “No - of course it can be windy which I suppose it would be in high buildings but this is really wonderful the winds don’t worry me at all.”

E.G. “Do you have any whistling noises in the living room and the windows?”.

Mrs. M. “Well, occasionally but not a lot to grumble about. I don’t find no fault with the place at all”.

E.G. “Thats to [sic] kind Mrs. Macdonald”

Mrs. M. “No I’m noted for being straight forward. I’m perfectly happy here and I wouldn’t change it for the Queen’s own Buckingham Palace. I was born here and I know everybody and any body that I know in these flats says that they are perfectly happy here. There’s nothing to find fault with, it’s beautiful.”

E.G. “But do you find that there’s less friendliness here”

Mrs. M. “No we’re all friendly everyone you speak to is ever so nice, No we’re all a friendly lot of people.”

E.G. “Do you meet on the lift or the access balconies”

Mrs. M. “Yes sometimes we meet going into the lift or on the ground floor and every one speaks. Everyone is sociable and that is God’s truth.

Thumb 1968 newspaper cuttings daily express

Architect sounds out his tenants, David Winder, The Christian Science Monitor
John MacDonald, a post office employee, said, “I live on the 25th floor, but you couldn’t drag my wife and me out of the place now even though we lived on the ground floor before.”

Harry Smith, a production manager at a local factory, said “I’m one whose central heating isn’t working… There’s also very bad workmanship, but the kitchen is well thought out and the balcony is safe - children can toddle about easily.”

Patrick Hayden, a docker and father of two young children, said, “Despite what people keep on saying about high-rise buildings we like them.”

 

High life of splendid isolation, Jean Stead, The Guardian
Mr Harry Smith, a production manager, at a factory near by, likes living on the 25th floor. He said yesterday: “I was making 17-mile journeys every day. I used to be exhausted. Now I’m two minutes from work and I feel marvellous.”

But there are more reasons than good views for liking life at the top. Enough of all that talk about children making friends in the community play centre and women chatting on the balconies. “I like the isolation,” said Mr Smith, simply “We have four grandchildren and spend a lot of time with them. This flat is ideal for getting away.”

Goldfinger pays his full whack at the top, Walter Partington, Daily Express
Said Hungarian-born Mr. Goldfinger: “Families will spend most of their lives in the flats I design. I must do everything possible to iron out any problems.”

 

Finding the high life in Poplar, The Guardian
Mr Goldfinger wants to get “the feel” of living in the building he designed for London’s East Enders. “I want to experience, at first-hand, the size of the rooms, the amenities provided, the time it takes to obtain a lift, the amount of wind whistling around the tower, and any problems which might arise from my designs so that I can correct them in the future.” he said in a GLC press release. “I feel it will be an invaluable exercise from which I and future tenants, will certainly gain a great deal.”

 

Evening Standard Reporter
Architect Mr Erno Goldfinger is to “sample his own cooking” by becoming a tenant for about two months in a skyscraper block of flats he designed for the Greater London Council.

Mr Plummer said: “Mr. Goldfinger told me he thought it would be advantageous in his future designs if he could live for a few weeks in one of the flats, so I invited him to move in.”

 

Architect sounds out his tenants, David Winder, The Christian Science Monitor
A London architect has given tenants of his new high-rise apartment building a change to take any complaints straight to the top.

Dissatisfied residents of Balfron Towers in London’s East End may take their complaints to architect Erno Goldfinger’s 25th-floor eyrie. If the problem can be solved, he would do something about it.

For two months Mr and Mrs Goldfinger lived in the apartment building. Partly they wanted to find out what technical faults were built into the apartments that could be eliminated from future designs.

But their stay was also a sociological experience. It was an attempt to see whether criticism that high-rise buildings were impersonal and unsuitable (especially for families with young children) were justified.

What then has the Greater London Council learned from Mr. Goldfinger’s experiment?

According to Desmond Plummer, leader the GLC, it is that “high buildings do provide decent living conditions and that, depite the fact that some people don’t like them, there are a number of people who do. And this particularly goes for people with young toddlers.”

Mr. Goldfinger’s findings are expected to influence the GLC in its redevelopment of London’s old dock area.

High living sampled by architect, Daily Telegraph
After six days of life high above the East End, Mr Goldfinger said: “I am enjoying this no end. I would love to live here.”

He said he had found only a few snags, and his first week had confirmed his view that tall blocks with open spaces were the “ideal of the moment”.

“I have wanted to build this for 30 years,” he added. “It will help bring the countryside to London.”

He said the flats had been designed specifically for families with small children. Each flat has a balcony and windows that can be locked.

 

East End’s tallest block of flats make ‘ideal homes’, East London Advertiser
“I would like to live here permanently,” he said. “I have found nothing that will make me alter any of my future designs.”

“The sound proofing here is perfect. This, of course, is helped by my having put all noisy machinery, such as lifts and the waste disposal unit, in a separate tower.”

“These flats are really my idea of ideal homes.”

Although Mr. Goldfinger is pleased with his flats, some local people have criticised tall blocks, saying they have destroyed the East End community spirit.

But the architect dismissed this as “rubbish.” He said: “I have created here nine separate streets on nine different levels, all with their own rows of front doors.”

“The people living here can sit on their deerstep and chat to the people next door if they want to. A community spirit is still possible even in these tall blocks, and any criticism that it isn’t is just rubbish.”

He went on: “These tall blocks are wonderful, in as much as they enable us to bring the countryside into the towns.”

“If we build up instead of out we have enough room for green spaces, lawns and trees, where children can play.”

“And if any of the mothers do not want to let their children down to ground level to play, there are playrooms in the corridors connecting the flat block and the block containing the noisy equipment.”

Architect with his head in the clouds, The Guardian
Sir, -

It does seem extraordinary that we can still go on building 26-storey blocks of flats such as the Poplar one recetly shown in the “Gurardian.” “Warehouses for storing human beings” was a term used not so long ago by an architectural critic for a similar housing scheme. It seems apt. The regrettable thing is that designers and town-planners should have so lost sight of ordinary human values and basic common sense that they could ever have imagined that a family could have live happily in monsters such as the Poplar block.

The main reason for this, I suggest, is that most housing designers today design for “them” - creatures from another planet - seldom for themselves. It can all be done from the safety of a terraced house in Hampstead. And, of course, the old East End terraces - with all their horrors and lack of plumbing - offered more conviviality and less restrictions than the modern tower.

Also it is now known that a tower is not the only answer to high-density urban living. Children always have needed to run about in the open on the ground. They always will. And parents have always liked to be somewhere near in control. They always will. In spite of all the town-planning jargon and the density figures. -

Yours faithfullly,

George Perkin
7 Archway Street. London SW 13 

Thumb 1968 high living
High Living
Film
Rank Organisation Special Features Division, 1968

Ernö Goldfinger: “The flats I’ve built in Tower Hamlets for the Greater London Council, overlooking the river, the docks and Greenwich, try to solve, beside the normal problems of architecture and buildings, problems of economics, population density, the problems of children, teenagers and old people, and the problem of cars - the segregation of pedestrian from traffic.”

Thumb 1968 architectural press cuttings riba

Dennis Sharp, Goldfinger on the ground, The Architects’ Journal, 17 July 1968
Following on from the press conference and the report he prepared on his stay in his own high rise block, Balfron Tower (AJ 22.5.68). Ernö Goldfinger spoke more informally - without jacket and tie, but with the characteristic cigar and a glass of whisky - about his findings at the AA recently.

Clearly his experience has reinforced his self-confessed ‘romantic’ conviction that high density, high rise building are the old answer to metropolitan living - at least for the mass working population. The ground is freed for other uses and for landscaping, the blocks add a new dimension to grotty, congested area and the views out are magnificent.

Although an attempt was made after the talk to broaden the argument (the chairman, Hal Moggridge, had little sympathy with Mr Goldfinger’s high rise views), the lecturer would have none of it. Justifiably so perhaps, for here was an architect talking about a group of buildings (stage one was for a twenty-six-storey tower, a one- and two-storey old people’s block and shop) that was successful from many points of view.

The powerfully modelled tower, which rehouses 146 families from Tower Hamlets, was filled in record time and without doubt many of the new tenants enjoy the building immensely. There have been no complaints of feeling unsafe in the block but there were problems, most of which were of a technical or design nature. The high windows on the external walls in some of the rooms were disliked, the indoor play area was not large enough for supervised play, the separated service tower and the bridge access points had fallen foul of the local vandals.

Dennis Sharp, Goldfinger on the ground, AA
What one admires about this experiment is the intensity of thought and public response that has come out of it. It is not for nothing that Goldfinger has been made an honorary member of the Tenants’ Association. Few architects can claim that distinction.

The High Life, Building
Goldfinger is a large and somewhat daunting figure, but this has not deterred his new East End neighbours. Both he and his wife have established “very pally relationships. They visit me all the time, they stop me in the lifts, they speak to me in the streets,” he says. “There is already a terrific sense of community, an atmosphere of an East End Street, but elevated, with views.”

Did he not think that more architects should follow my example? “I would not presume to suggest that other architects should follow my example,” he says, adding rather wickedly, “presumably they are clever enough not to have to check their designs pragmatically.”

The High Life, Building
“There is already a terrific sense of community, an atmosphere of an East End Street, but elevated, with views."

Thumb 1969 newspaper cuttings   the guardian

Terence Bendixson, Box Mania, The Guardian
In this world of asphalt, noise, railings, and gloomy subways Erno Goldfinger, the distinguished private architect, has chosen to pack most of the dwellings into tall concrete towers that are already stained with rust. The first tower, although perversely beautiful, conjures up thoughts of prisons and pill-boxes. Here, too, vandalism is setting in.

Thumb 1969 goldfinger east london papers

The scheme described is the first of the last three phases of what is known as Brownfield Estate. This GLC Estate is situated to the east of Crispin Market, bounded to the west by an almost disused rail cutting, to the east by Brunswick Road (the north-south arm of the ‘Motorway Box’ leading to the Blackwall Tunnel), to the north by a proposed open space and the playgrounds of a comprehensive school yet to be built, to the south by an open space at the junction of the Commercial Road and the Motorway Box. The whole area will ultimately be a pedestrian precinct with no through traffic whatseover.

PLANNING
All common vertical services are carried in an isolated service tower, connected with the main block by means of bridges serving the middle level of a three-storey high component cell (comprising an average of 18 flats). From access galleries, connected to the service tower by bridges, flats above and below are reached by means of private staircases.

——
TABLE 1 
A-Block
35   2-room flats, with 1 living room, 1 bedroom, 1 kitchen and bathroom with WC.
84   3-room flats, with 1 living room, 2 bedrooms, 1 kitchen and bathroom with sep. WC.
17   4-room flats, with 1 living room, 3 bedrooms, 1 kitchen and bathroom with sep. WC.
10   5-room flats, with 1 living room, 4 bedrooms, 1 kitchen and bathroom, 2 sep. WC.
Of the 35 2-room flats some are for old people.

B-Block
12   1-room and 2-room flats for old people are situated in a 2-storey block facing south, forming a separate building.

C-Block
A local shop with one 3-room flat above.
——

Communal services comprise 2 drying rooms and 2 hobby rooms which are situated in the service tower.

STRUCTURE
Block A is a 26-storey block of flats and is an in situ reinforced cross-wall structure linked to the service tower by precast concrete bridges at every third floor. The type of structure chosen facilitates the repetitive use of formwork. To speed work on the site all intricately shaped parts of the structure, such as stairs and balcony parapets, are in precast reinforced concrete. The building and tower are founded on 30 in. diameter 60 ft. long cast in situ friction and end-bearing bored piles.

Blocks B and C are constructed in load-bearing brickwork supporting in situ reinforced concrete floor slabs.

Garages linked by concrete ramps have been constructed below ground level and are roofed by large-span in situ concrete coffered slabs, supporting the playgrounds and gardens above.

The reinforced concrete, where exposed to view on the external elevations, has been bush-hammered to expose the aggregate. All special structures and external concrete walls are constructed in waterproof concrete.

MECHANICAL ENGINEERING SERVICES
Heating

The heating is supplied from a central boiler room containing four fully automatic oil-fired boilers, situated on the top of the service tower. The boilers supply lock pressure hot water to A and B blocks with sufficient capacity to supply a future D Block. Distribution is by means of a reverse return system supplying low-pressure hot water to a warm air heater in each flat. From this heater, warm air is distributed through grilles to living areas.

Hot Water Services
Each flat is served by an independent hot water system consisting of cold water break-tanks and electric water heaters.

Cold Water Service and Drinking Water
The cold and drinking water services to each flat are supplied by break-tanks in the service tower which are filled by fully automatic booster pumps from the break-tank on level IIIA.

Fire Service
The fire service consists of a wet riser to the roof of the service tower with landing valves on each access landing. The riser is served by an independent electric booster pump and stand-by diesel booster pump. Both are fully automatic. Hose reels are provided in the garage.

Ventilation
The ventilation system consists of three sets of fully automatic duplicate fans on the roof of Block A, providing three separate extract ventilation systems. Each system serves external bathrooms and WCs in Block A.

ELECTRICAL SERVICES
The electrical supply to the dwellings in Block A is derived from the Electricity Board’s sub-station in the basement. Lateral services inside each dwelling are provided from three separate sets of tenants’ rising mains, installed by the Board.

The wiring system in dwellings consists of PVC cables throughout. Tungsten lighting is provided in all dwellings together with general purpose socket outlets fitted to the Parker Morris Standard.

All wiring in the flats is concealed and lighting switches are fitted in the door-frames. Water heating for kitchens and bathrooms is provided electrically. In the old persons’ dwellings, separate electric water storage heaters are provided for baths. The communal radio/television aerial system is wired to flush aerial outlets in all living rooms of the dwellings in A and B blocks.

The lift tower houses the public (landlord’s) electric service meter room which is supplied separately from the London Electricity Board’s mains.

Two passenger lifts serve the access levels and the lift motor room is on level 25A.

Fluorescent lighting is provided to staircases and for the access balconies in blocks A and B inside miniature lamps fed in flush and semi-flush bulkhead fittings, and in the garages 5 ft vapour-proof fittings are installed.

The public lighting is time-switch controlled from public lighting control units in the lift tower. In the lighting of the approach ways, garage ramps and gardens, mercury vapour lamps in special reflector-units mounted on the roof of Block A shine down through slots in the roof parapet, thus obviating the use of lamp standards.

——
TABLE 2 [Figures for Old Estate 1964, Rowlett St Phase I Oct 1967, Rowlett St Phase II under construction, Burcham St Phase III planning stage (scheme L2M).]
——

After completion of the first part of the scheme my wife and I had the opportunity to live for two months in one of the flats in order to gain first-hand experience of the functioning of the building and to observe possible shortcomings. This also enabled me to correct some details of the buildings which by more complicated means of communication is made practically impossible.

The method which we used for arriving at the findings was fourfold. The first involved direct observation by ourselves (my wife and myself living in the flat) and communicating with our neighbours. The second part made use of reports from the Tenants’ Association, and the third source was the Clerk of Works report. Finally, as an architect, I made observations regarding planning, future planning, and detailing.

OBSERVATIONS
Social considerations

The success of any scheme depends on the human factor - the relationship of people to each other and the frame to their daily life which the building provides. These particular buildings have the great advantage of having families with deep roots in the immediate neighbourhood as tenants. In fact most families have been rehoused from the adjoining streets. Of the 160 families, all except two came from the Borough of Tower Hamlets.

——
TABLE 3 [Dwelling-types in each block]
——

The nine access galleries form ‘pavements’ on which the normal life of the neighbourhood continues very similar to a ‘traditional East End’ Street. On seven of these pavements there are 18 front doors, while on two levels, where there are maisonettes, the ground floor has seven and the fifteenth floor has 13 front doors. As far as possible, people from the same area were rehoused together, street by street.

This system of access galleries has proved much more satisfactory from a social point of view than the so-called ‘point-block’ arrangement, when only a small number of flats can be grouped around an internal corridor. It also provides through ventilation as each flat has two aspects.

The people who occupy these flats continue to work in the same jobs as before they moved; children go to the same schools as before.

Provisions lacking are the common shopping and welfare facilities. This is a delicate point which has been plaguing housing for half a century - the difficulty of deciding how much of the common facilities are attributable to housing proper and how much comes under other headings. This is, of course, a problem of financial and organizational strategy which is far from having been solved on the political plane.

The essential facilities which we are providing are those of the 24-hour cycle, which means the immediate surroundings of the building. These facilities vary by age groups and interests. The following have been provided:

  1. For the toddler - in immediate contact with his mother - large terraces have been built in each flat, where the mother can supervise her small child or children from the dining/kitchen or the living room.
  2. On the ground floor, for these same children and those of up to say 5 years old, there is a sunken play area with slides, towers, water and a sandpit. These are to be completed by a supervised day nursery, placed in the proximity of this play area, so that the whole thing can be supervised.
  3. For teenagers, rooms have been built in the service tower, away from the dwellings for: a) table tennis and/or billiards. b) jazz/pop room. c) hobby room, which can also be used for older people. (The administration of these space presents certain problems but, I understand that the Tenants’ Association is willing to take the responsibility.)
  4. For older people, a clubroom which is to be provided in conjunction with a day nursery in such a way that the facilities of the day nursery will enlarge those of the clubroom at night. (Here again, certain problems of organization are involved but, it seems that they can be overcome.)
  5. Two drying rooms are also provided in the service tower.
  6. Underground garages for 79 cars and access for service and other vehicles at low level not cutting across pedestrian access.

The whole area will be a pedestrian precinct with underground garages and car access at low level.

Management Considerations
The management seems to be working well on the whole, which is not surprising in view of the GLC’s great experience over so many years in this field. Nevertheless, at the very beginning a great mistake was made by not providing the tenants with adequate information about their new and unfamiliar building. This caused considerable trouble with such trivial things as window cleaning, fixing curtain rails, the use of central heating, and the availability of garages and storerooms. The tenants were simply not told. Explanatory leaflets have now been provided which have helped a lot.

Planning Considerations
On the whole, the general disposition of the buildings and the flats is acceptable. I am prepared to repeat the same design in future schemes.

The main characteristic of the building is the separation of dwellings from communal services. These latter are housed in a separate tower, connected to the 26-storey block of flats by bridges and access galleries every third floor. Thus all noisy machinery, including lift motors, water pumps, fire pumps, rubbish chutes, and the boiler house at the top, are completely insulated from the dwellings. Each dwelling is insulated from its neighbours, sideways by a 9 in. concrete wall and top and bottom, by a 1 ft. thick concrete floor, which is composed of 9 in. structural slab and 3 in. floating screed on a fibreglass blanket.

There are only two lifts provided in this building, which proved inadequate while tenants were moving in, but settled down ultimately. When two lifts are working this is just adequate, but when one lift is being serviced or breaks down, the waiting time is still too long.

Detailing
Because of sanitary regulations the access galleries had to be left open at the top (five pitches open on to them). As they face east, in the winter months they proved very cold. Thresholds for the front doors were not originally provided and cold winds blew into the flats. This has been remedied by the provisions of a threshold for each flat. Windows have a copper gasket which proved satisfactory from the point of view of thermal insulation and sound insulation. Unfortunately, in certain high winds these copper gaskets vibrate, and, although they do not let the air through, create a trumpeting noise in flats at high levels. These have now been redesigned. Also being redesigned is the so-called permanent ventilation, which is required by the London Building Acts. Tenants very wisely blocked this up as soon as they moved into the flats.

The front door locks have proved inadequate and, being a general GLC issue, have been re-examined.

No door bells were provided, the letter box plates forming knockers. The result of this economy was that many tenants fixed electric door bells in odd places, with wires trailing inside the flats. This was a pity, after so much thought had gone into avoiding surface wiring.

At the meeting of the Tenants’ Association and on other occasions, my attention had been drawn to a number of defects which were, of course, covered by the provisions of the contract and have been put right. The main ones were:

  1. In eight dwellings out of 150 the heating did not work.
  2. The builders had left bits of cement in the drainage system.
  3. The roof over some garages was still leaking.
  4. Some window sills were not properly fitted.

These are teething troubles and have been remedied point by point.

After completion of the first part of the scheme my wife and I had the opportunity to live for two months in one of the flats in order to gain first-hand experience of the functioning of the building and to observe possible shortcomings. This also enabled me to correct some details of the buildings which by more complicated means of communication is made practically impossible.

1970

Thumb 1973 erno goldfinger
Ernö Goldfinger
Book
Major Máté, 1973
Thumb jg ballard high rise
High Rise
Book
JG Ballard, 1975

Balfron and Trellick Tower have both been reputed to act as the inspiration for JG Ballard's dystopian novel of savage societal breakdown, High Rise, where the the tower is arranged in distinct social strata according to height and architect, Anthony Royal, lives in the penthouse "hovering over [them] like some kind of fallen angel."

Thumb press cuttings 1978

Sue Roalman, East London Advertiser

The 400-odd residents of Balfron Towers in Poplar have something in common with Tory housing boss George Tremlett: they agree that high-rise living, at its worse, can be a ghastly and isolating experience.

From the vacant depths of the garage, I shot straight to the top floor (the lift was working, but reportedly had only just been fixed) where the corridors were neat and tidy, but eerily empty.

Fifty-nine-year-old Harold Byford, who has lived alone, at the top for two years, says he feels like a “battery chicken in a box” in his flat. He rarely sees his neighbours, but admits that is partly his fault, as he has only once knocked at a neighbours’s door. That was on Christmas.

Still, he believes the design of the flats has contributed to the ‘indifference’ which people tend to show towards one another; and which he feels, follows from being physically isolated.

“Once I locked myself out of my flat and had to smash the front window to get in, Mr Byford recalled. “Did anyone stick their head out of the door to see what was happening?” He shakes his head. No one.

Such a “keep yourself to yourself” attitude has made Balfron Towers easy pickings for vandals and thieves. Mr. Byford has twice been burgled.

At the other end of the age spectrum, 31/2 year-old Sian Godwin has also lived at Balfron for two years in her short life. And her mother, 21 year old Kerry Godwin, thinks the strain is starting to show in her daughter’s behaviour.

“She gets ever so aggressive and destructive being cooped up in the flat all day,” said Ms. Godwin. “She never gets the chance to play with children her age, because there’s just no where to take them around here.”

Ms. Godwin, a single parent with another child, two-year-old Nicholas, says the difficulty for all of them is enormous, particularly because the flat is so poorly designed for children.

The window opens at the bottom, so either one could fall out if I weren’t watching,” she says. “My only hope is to get Sian into a nursery soon so she will have a chance to play safely with other children.”

Sue Roalman, East London Advertiser
The 400-odd residents of Balfron Towers in Poplar have something in common with Tory housing boss George Tremlett: they agree that high-rise living, at its worse, can be a ghastly and isolating experience.

Speaking at a meeting of high-powered planners from the Royal Institute of British Architects, Mr. Tremlett last week lambasted his audience for deigning high-rise blocks ‘almost unspeakable in their ghastliness.’

And he pin-pointed Balfrom Towers - looming 25 stories high on the edge of Northern Approach to the Blackwall Tunnel - as an example of the worst in high rise design.

“Tiptoe through the mess beneath Balfron Towers and see the legacy your profession has left,” he challenged them.

Whether or not the designers took up the challenge, the Advertiser was down there this week.

From the vacant depths of the garage, I shot straight to the top floor (the lift was working, but reportedly had only just been fixed) where the corridors were neat and tidy, but eerily empty.

1980

Thumb 1983 erno goldfinger works 1 cover
Ernö Goldfinger: Works 1
Book
James Dunnett and Gavin Stamp, 1983
Page(s): James Dunnett

The high-rise housing schemes which he built for the GLC were a product of this consideration in every detail, designed to secure 'sun, space, and greenery' for their inhabitants... But in Goldfinger's hands the millenial utopian vision has acquired an air of menace, the ideal has been pushed to its very limits.

The sheer scale and drama of their architecture are exciting, but unnerving. Exciting because the control of form is so complete. The rhythms of the facades, founded on the mathematical control of proportion, ore a statement of formal architectural values unequalled in this country, l would say, since Lutyens, a perfect resolution of horizontal and vertical elements. Raw concrete has rarely seemed so beautiful, its detailing handled with a knowledge beginning with Perret. The sequence of space and form is varied, picturesque, never repetitive: under a low evening sun one has the feeling of participation in an heroic landscape.

But it is unnerving not only because of scale - 28 storeys at Rowlett Street, 30 at Edenham Street - but because of the choice of elements of a distinctly minatory character. lt is as though Goldfinger, from among the Functionalist totems, had chosen as a source of inspiration the artefacts of war. The sheer concrete walls of the circulation towers are pierced only by slits; cascading down the facade like rain, they import a delicate sense of terror. At the summit of the tower the boiler house is cantilevered far out; with its ribbon glazing and surmounted by flues it evokes the bridge of a warship. At night the estate is illuminated by the merciless beam of powerful arclights mounted at the summit of the slab.

The intellectual power required to create a significant work of ort can often seem frightening to others. lt requires strength to be inspired by it and not run for cover. Goldfinger's is a demanding architecture, whose place is at the centre of intellectual life.

Thumb 1983 04 ern  goldfinger the architect as constructor
Page(s): 48

Erno Goldfinger talks to The Architectural Review

AR - If you were given a Rowlett Street or even an Edenham Street site to design housing for today, would you tackle it in the same way?

EG - Of course. I always approach a brief in the same way. I try to satisfy the requirements in the case of housing: biological, social, financial etc… with the means at our disposal: structural, mechanical etc… If the briefs were identical I would probably find similar solutions, plus the experience of a further 15 years.

I would like to add a few words regarding the controversy of ‘high-rise’ buildings. The main trouble with ‘high-rise’ buildings in this country is the incompetence of managements:

  1. Rehousing is done in a haphazard way. For instance, so called ‘problem families’ are dumped into unfamiliar surroundings, saddled with rents they cannot afford and are given practically no help to adjust.
  2. Maintenance is lamentable
  3. Supervision is inadequate, incompetent and spiteful
  4. Vandalism is practically encouraged by persons who are antagonistic to this sort of development
  5. Tenants who are satisfied just let it be… only those who are dissatisfied complain
  6. The only complaint I came across - when living on the top floor of one of the buildings I designed and when I had my office at the foot of another for three years - was high rent.
Page(s): 44

But the Elephant and Castle has no theatricality: it is in earnest. Its message appears to be that the Utopia which was the goal of the Modern Movement will not be achieved without a grim struggle. Idealism has been confronted with the material imperative of Structural-Rationalism - and has been stiffened by the exchange. To the distant promise of a social revolution has been added a consciousness of the excitement, and violence, of the battle to bring it about

A similar interaction can be traced in the two GLC housing schemes, though with an outcome of different emphasis. There are varied building types in both estates, but it is possible here simply to concentrate on the most distinctive feature of both - the central slab block.

The theory of high-rise housing is a direct product of the idealist tradition in modern architecture. The rarefied ‘sun, space, and greenery’ that was to be provided was of an essentially utopian nature. Furthermore, for many architects the high-rise form offered the opportunity to provide centralised domestic services, and thus to overcome the inefficiencies of individual domestic management - an idea that in the eyes particularly of Constructivist architects had socialist connotations. In 1933 at the CIAM conference Goldfinger exhibited his own such proposal - a high-rise housing unit for 700 people, equipped with centralised communal services. It was to take the form of a free-standing slab 22 storeys high and wedge-shaped in plan, with all the vertical circulation and communal facilities at the broader end.

When in 1963 Goldfinger was offered his first large high-density housing site by the LCC at Roulette Street in Poplar, it carried a provisional brief for four point blocks. But he combined them into a single slab 27 storeys high, with vertical circulation and communal facilities concentrated at one end, housing approximately 600. A similar block, 31 storeys high and incorporating various improvements, formed the central feature of his Cheltenham Estate at Edenham Street in North Kensington five years later.

Though similar in size to the CIAM housing, these blocks were quite new in plan and section. Instead of a central corridor on each floor, there were now, in response to the LCC brief, dual-aspect flats served by an enclosed access gallery on every third floor. Contemporary schemes based on this principle, such as Park Hill at Sheffield, had frequently involved very tortuous and unsatisfactory flat plans. Goldfinger’s section was clear: it allowed three flats to be served per bay by each gallery - a four-person flat above and below, and a two-person flat on the same floor - with access directly into the centre of each flat. 

As if in response to a more ‘Idealist’ brief, the architecture here appears more Corbusian in character than at the Elephant and Castle. The row of ‘pulpit’ balconies at mid-height on the front elevation, which marks the position of a row of six-person maisonettes, and the heavy modelling of the facade are reminiscent of Le Corbusier’s Quartier de la Marine office skyscraper project for Algiers, of 1939. The clear articulation of each element is in the Elementarist manner of Constructivism, the wide separation of the tower from the main block allowing a dramatic interpenetration of space.

But the control of the detail is Rationalist. The concrete, the predominant surface material, is bush-hammered as in Perret, without the element of ‘disguise’ intrinsic in the more picturesque Corbusian shutterboarding. The structural slabs and crosswalls are clearly expressed on elevation. The access galleries, which project with their heavily radiused upper and lower profiles resemble a row of railway carriages, are supported on pronounced concrete brackets, providing a very satisfying visual support. Like many structural elements in Goldfinger’s architecture, they are scaled above simple structural necessity in order to provide a sense of visual stability, and thus illustrate the classical French Rationalist belief in the importance of le vraisemblable over le vrai. Te rhythm established by these brackets, and by the windows, the slabs, and the crosswalls is of a profound harmony, the perfect Classical balance of horizontal and vertical elements.

The design of these blocks is in fact a highly original synthesis, and is perhaps Goldfinger’s most expressive invention. The lift tower, taller than the main block and set emphatically to one side, creates an extraordinary, almost sinister asymmetrical outline, as though in unstable equilibrium - an effect enhanced by the extreme slenderness of the block. The softness of the high-rise ideal - the cité-jardin verticale with its rolling greensward - has been injected with a more urgent imagery. The boiler house at Edenham Street is cantilevered far out from the summit of the lift tower and, with its four chimneys and continuous band of glazing, resembles the bridge of a warship. The sheer concrete walls of the lift tower are pierced only by slits, which cascade down the facade like rain, bearing a hint of menace. Above all the sheer scale of the blocks is exciting, but unnerving - a scale which is emphasised at night by powerful flood-lights which illuminate the estate from the summit of the slab. The battle for the Ideal has still to be fought… ‘For me Viollet-le-Duc is the first modern architect… It must always be possible to see, and feel, how a building is supported’ Goldfinger has said. This Rationalist sense of structural integrity, together with the power of identifying emotionally with the users of his buildings, are the essential elements of his architecture. From them it derives its purity and power.

1990

Thumb 1991 london
London
Book
Elain Harwood and Andrew Saint, 1991

For a short period in the 1960s, tower blocks got out of control. By that time, it was the speed with which builders could put them up that was getting them built, and most architects were cured of them. One who was not was Ernö Goldfinger, whose extraordinary Trellick Tower and Balfron Tower are isolated statements of French monumentalism and concrete technique in the unexpected settings of North Kensington and Poplar. The only worthy points of comparison are the vertiginous, triangular pencils of the Barbican, an enclave which turns its back upon nature and the life of the street with equally un-English fervour. Perhaps time will make these tough developments seem to fit in better with the fertile and internationally influential tradition of planned housing in London.

Thumb 1993 london
World Cities: London
Book
Kenneth Powell, 1993

Aesthetically, London’s best high modern buildings are the two strange housing towers by that tough-minded disciple of Auguste Perret, the late Ernö Goldfinger.

Thumb 1994 shopping
Shopping
Film
Paul WS Anderson, 1994

In an oral history interview, a resident explained that during the filming of Shopping, corridor and car park lights were turned off for long periods. The set designers added props to make the tower seem grim; putting scaffolding up along the walkway leading to the tower, cladding it in corrugated iron and spraying it with graffiti; leaving an abandoned cars strewn around the estate; replacing functioning lamp-posts with broken, bent versions. When the film crew left, they repainted the fencing and restored everything else but they forgot to replace the lamp post which remained, bent and unfunctioning, for a further week.

The film which features the tower most prominently is Paul WS Anderson’s 1994 Shopping. Over incessant pulsing trance-techno we are introduced to a dark post-industrial city of blast furnaces and hollow factories, centred around a dilapidated tower block and its gang of teenage residents who indulge in joyriding and ram-raiding. Making his debut leading role, Jude Law plays the nihilistic Billy, all leather jacket and reckless charm, released from prison and soon back to his life of aimless rebellion. 

The first we see of Balfron is a slow pan up as Billy walks along the podium walkway, under a makeshift scaffolded entranceway with hung red lamps, and further up as the tower comes in to view, its geometric pattern of flats behind the horizontal ladder frame, and further up to the three bright rooftop downlights. He arrives at a dimly-lit tiled corridor and an iron-gated down-flat where he used to live.

We return to the tower repeatedly, either thick in mist or the dark of night, filled by young gangs wielding baseball bats and Molotov cocktails who skulk around corrugated iron walls, contorted street lamps and the carcasses of police cars. Sean Bean arrives for a brief cameo in a black Mercedes, thick striped suit and jewellery, and pulls into the underground car park lit only from street light filtering in through coffered ceiling. ‘Look at this place,’ he mutters to his driver. 'How do people live in this filth?’ He walks along a ground floor corridor completely blanketed in graffiti, ‘This whole estate’s a disgrace’.

Thumb 1994 newspaper cuttings   the guardian

Lewis Chester, High & mighty, The Guardian Weekend
Goldfinger’s influence was international but his most massive structures are all in London, though not in fashionable locations. You have to go down to Poplar in London’s East End to appreciate Goldfinger’s Balfron Tower punching its brushed concrete fist 27 storeys into the sky.
...
“Goldfinger wasn’t just larger than life,” said Sam Webb, “he was mega larger than life. The only parallel I can think of is with de Gaulle, you know, the way he became France. Well Erno became his buildings, and his buildings became Erno.” Those who had the temerity to criticise could expect no quarter. Richard Napper, who has spent most of his career as an architect in London’s East End, remembers an explosive encounter with Goldfinger in the early 1970s when they were both, in their different ways, on the up. Napper had begun work on the design for Patriot Square, a low-rise housing estate estate in Bethnal Green which is now in the process of being “listed”. Goldfinger, meantime, was trailing clouds of glory for having “lived” at the top of Balfron Tower for all of two months before making it back to the verge of Hampstead Heath. He pronounced the Balfron experience “exhilarating”.

Napper thought that Balfron was “socially disastrous” and that Goldfinger’s PR antic was pure personal grandstanding at the expense of an area that could well do without it. He volunteered this view to Goldfinger when they met at party in Highgate and spent the next two hours being bawled all round the house. Napper believes he held his own when Goldfinger occasionally paused for breath, but acknowledges that he could find absolutely no answer to the concluding roar: “Young man, you are nothing but a greenhorn. I will have you know that my finger is not the only member of my body that is golden.”
...
“They’re really lovely, aren’t they?” said Frances Clarke, director of the National Tower Blocks Network, leafing through reproductions of the original drawings for Balfron and Trellick. “You can see why councils in the 1960s were so excited to build them. Such a pity.” Clarke would remain dry-eyed if every tower block were razed to the ground. But her current campaign is focused on the more limited objective of trying to get young families housed at lower levels. Golgfinger’s towers are among her targets, but it is hard to make an impression. Tower Hamlets council says it tries - not always successfully - to rehouse young families below the sixth floor at Balfron. Kensington and Chelsea says that “in an ideal world” it would like to impose a similar restriction at Trellick, but the scarcity of public housing resources make it impossible.

Thumb 2009 this is music the verve
This is Music
Film
The Verve, 1995
Thumb 1995 morning glory

Balfron Tower accompanies the screeching riff and drug-fuelled lyrics of Britpop band Oasis’ track Morning Glory where it appears from acute angles under a filter which colours the sky amber and stains the concrete a rusty hue. In the opening staccato shots of the music video the tower is interspersed with glimpses of a flat with small windows where the Gallaghers play deafeningly and a bleak strip-lit lino factory corridor where a cast of fellow residents ineffectually scream and pound on the door.

Thumb 1996 03 english heritage listing

Flats and Maisonettes. 1965-7 by Erno Goldfinger, designed in 1963 for the London County Council and built by the Greater London Council. Reinforced concrete, with timber cladding to balconies, asphalt flat roof. 136 one- and two-bedroomed flats and ten maisonettes arranged on 26 storeys, with six units per floor and five maisonettes on floors 1 and 2 and 15 and 16 - the latter forming a distinctive break in the pattern of the fenestration and balconies. The units are served at every third floor by corridors linking them to an otherwise detached service tower containing lifts, rubbish chutes, laundry rooms and topped by a boiler tower with stepped profile and chimneys. Elevation to St Leonard's Road with balconies to every flat, those to maisonettes set on upper floor in centre of unit and forming a distinctive pattern. Rear elevation with corridors running through every third floor (where the one-bedroom flats are situated). All windows with rectangular timber windows with a thick profile, that serve as a vertical contrast to the horizontal rhythm of the balcony fronts. Originally the block was topped by a thick cornice, but this was removed some years ago -as was that at Trellick Tower, Kensington and Chelsea. Interior retains marble-lined entrance hall and tiled corridors. The hard finishes of these interiors are unusually well thought-out and survive well. Balfron Tower is the earliest of the two large blocks of flats and maisonettes that were arguably the most important commissions of his career. Balfron Tower has a distinctive profile that sets it apart from other tall blocks. More importantly, it proved that such blocks could be well planned and beautifully finished, revealing Goldfinger as a master in the production of finely textured and long-lasting concrete masses.

Thumb 1996 something worth keeping
Page(s): 2-3

In the late 1940s and 1950s Britain designed the best council housing in the world. Our selection represents only the cream of what was produced… It was left to the stalwart Ernö Goldfinger, a pioneer of the early international congresses on public housing in the 1930s, to continue to design tall blocks of real quality: his Balfron Tower is already listed, and Trellick Tower is also recommended.

Page(s): 2-3

In the late 1940s and 1950s Britain designed the best council housing in the world. Our selection represents only the cream of what was produced… It was left to the stalwart Ernö Goldfinger, a pioneer of the early international congresses on public housing in the 1930s, to continue to design tall blocks of real quality: his Balfron Tower is already listed, and Trellick Tower is also recommended.

Thumb 1996 rising in the east

The East End of London was physically reconstructed. Two square miles of the badly bombed Poplar area became the largest Comprehensive Development Area in Britain, housing a population larger than that of many a New Town. Chrisp Street Market, the Lansbury estate, the Balfron Tower, the Robin Hood Gardens estate, presented:

‘a totally new world, dominated by the tall blocks of flats and by the lower terraces of the three- and four-storey maisonettes, standing in spacious gardens and landscaped squares.’ (Peter Hall, The World Cities (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1966)

The mood, as can be seen, was intensely hopeful. The architectural style was modern, derived from the heroic theorists the 1920s and 30s - the Russian Constructivists, Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius and the Bauhaus school - for whom modern architecture was synonymous with social progress. 

Thumb 1997 11 a sense of proportion

The 28-storey Balfron Tower formed the major element of an LCC housing project known as the Rowlett Street estate, and is not administered as part of the adjacent Brownfield Estate. It provides 156 apartments of a variety of sizes served by an access gallery on every third floor. Its crosswalks are at 22’ 0” centres (Goldfinger’s 11” module x 24), and its principle façade is built around a central feature of double square proportion - the honeycomb stack of full-width balconies of the west-facing flats, which measures 108’ 4” x 216’ 8”. Marking the dividing line between these two squares is a row of double-height balconies corresponding to a row of six-person maisonettes. The proportion of these voids is within 1.5 per cent of Golden Section (20’ 8” x 12’ 11 1/2”), and lying on the diagonal is the front of the small pulpit-like balconies serving the upper floor of the maisonettes, which are also of Golden Section ratio (7’ 2” x 4’ 5”). The overall proportions of the slab (excluding the detached stair and lift tower) possibly has an intended relationship to the Golden Section (the ratio of overall width to height excluding parapet conforms), but it is not one that is clearly legible.

Thumb greenwich mean time
Greenwich Mean Time
Film
John Strickland, 1999

In John Strickland’s gritty and long 'Greenwich Mean Time', notable for a decent soundtrack and acting as a springboard for a few careers such as Chiwetel Ejiofor’s, eight South London schoolmates cope with turmoil in their twenties. Balfron Tower features as the home of dealer Elroy, played by Freddie Annobil-Dodoo, who lives on the top floor, from which he enlists Bean, played by Ben Waters, a former freeform trumpeter who becomes an increasingly sallow junky, to push crack around the estate. The red and olive of the bleak swings and railings at the foot of the tower are echoed in the distasteful colour scheme of Elroy’s flat, considerate only in helping to distract us from the unpleasant scenes that take place there.

2000

Thumb 2000 to this measure of man

The relationship that Goldfinger established with the LCC at the Elephant and Castle let to his three principal subsequent commissions, the Haggerston School, and his two major housing schemes, dominated by Balfron Tower and Trellick Tower respectively. The 28-storey Balfron Tower, begun in 1965, forms part of the Brownfield Estate adjacent to the northern approach to Blackwall Tunnel in east London, where Goldfinger went on to build two other substantial blocks, Carradale House and Glenkerry House, as well as a number of smaller buildings. Balfron Tower itself contains 146 apartments of various sizes served by access galleries on every third floor, leading to a widely detached lift and service tower at the northern end. The dramatic relationship between these two elements of the tower, and the space between them, constitutes one of Goldfinger’s most powerful inventions. He explained that the boilers, rubbish chute and lifts were generators of noise and this justified their being widely separated from the flats themselves. The larger buildings are of bush-hammered concrete, the smaller of brick, and they are of crosswall construction. The crosswalk of Balfron Tower are on 22’ 0” centres (2’ 9” module x 8), and its principal façade is designed around a central feature of exactly double square proportion: the honeycomb stack of full-width windows and balconies of the west-facing flats, which measures 108’ 4” x 216’ 8”. Marking the dividing line between the two squares is a row of double-height balconies corresponding to a row of larger maisonettes inside. The proportion of these voids is within 1.5% of Golden Section (20’ 8” x 12’ 11 1/2”), and lying on the diagonal are the small pulpit-like balconies serving the upper level of the maisonettes, which are also of Golden Section proportion (7’ 2” x 4’ 5”).

Thumb 2001 council housing and culture the history of a social experiment
Page(s): 107

The architecture was further distorted and corrupted by the economies, bureaucracy and politics of a large public programme, so that what in the end it delivered - forests of close-set towers in an unreformed urban environment - was precisely what Le Corbusier had warned against. Most dangerously of all, it's application was widely separated from, and lost sight of, its real users, the inhabitants of the buildings. The RIBA chose to believe, somewhat against the evidence, that sociology had given high-rise housing the necessary stamp of approval. In the event, examples of estates or buildings that satisfied both the Modern Movement aesthetic and social criteria are few. Two possible candidates were the tower blocks of Erno Goldfinger in London, which after years of decay were eventually appreciated and hotly defended by some of their residents.

Thumb 2001 preserving post war heritage

Meeting new needs
Balfron Tower sits close by the Blackwall Tunnel Approach, a major traffic artery. The recent road-widening scheme has brought increased traffic volume closer to the building, creating a need to soundproof and upgrade the windows. The occupants of the flats objected to the installation of secondary glazing, as great disruption would have been caused to internal fittings and all work would have been carried out inside each flat.

It was decided that replacement windows were the only practical solution. Because the budget was tight, a standard UPVC window was selected. It was at this point that Balfron Tower was spot-listed to ensure that the question of an architecturally sensitive solution could be fully addressed.

The question of new windows for Balfron Tower raises many points that are peculiar to the control of change in post-war social housing. The spot-listing meant that works that had already begun had to be interrupted. The standard windows destined to replace the originals before the spot-listing did not match the geometry of the Goldfinger windows; they also had ‘storm window’ casements set proud of the surrounding frame, unlike the original flush-fitting window and frame detail. Alternative timber products proved to be prohibitively expensive and were, in any case, further from Goldfinger’s original design due to a thicker section of the timber frames. A more suitable window design had to be sourced - one that was quickly available, would conform to current safety and performance standards, and was affordable. In the event, a French UPVC section was found that allowed a very close match with the original window section and geometry, and satisfied all the other requirements. The French UPVC windows were, therefore, chosen as the best solution that could be achieved given the tight constraints of time, resources and performance.

The windows at Balfron Tower raise a more general issue for large post-war social housing complexes. As these buildings are now thirty to forty years old, the question of replacing doors, windows or even external cladding will become more pressing. A balance must be struct between respecting the historic architecture and finding appropriate solutions to performance upgrading for thermal, acoustic or safety purposes.

The future of Balfron Tower
Most post-war public housing developments have suffered from inadequate or sporadic maintenance, due to tight funding restrictions on housing authorities. With the lack of a consistent, adequately funded maintenance and repair regime, urgent repairs can sometimes be underfunded and ill-advised.

Balfron Tower and its surrounding now need a comprehensive scheme of repair, landscaping and improvement. With the listing of the building, Tower Hamlets have recognized the need for special care to protect and enhance Balfron Tower. In consolation with English Heritage, the Council are considering the possibility of designating a conservation area around the whole group of Goldfinger buildings. Proposals are also being considered for an improved automatic entry system and the restoration of the public areas, including the distinctive marble and mosaic finishes that are characteristic of Goldfinger’s work.

Like the people of Lansbury, the inhabitants of Balfron Tower are protective of their building and frustrated by many years of inadequate fundings. The listing of the building and the inclusion of the whole group within a conservation area will assist Tower Hamlets Council, in cooperation with English Heritage, to harness regeneration resources in a sensitive manner.

Conservation and regeneration: a richer future for the social heritage
The listing of post-war public social housing has brought into focus the fundamental issues of what should be preserved and how best to achieve this. It is essential that the world of conservation learn the skills of the housing manager and understand the difficult choices imposed by limited funding. The accolade of listing can, however, support local people’s sense of value in their own environment and encourage high aspirations for repair and improvements.

The Government is committed to the regeneration of more than 2,000 deprived areas: major funding will be committed to housing repair, environmental improvement and other, wider social concerns. At the time of writing, a reshaped Single Regeneration Budget has already been given £3 billion to target 50 areas with populations of around 20,000. There has also been a release £3.6 billion from council house sales to fund further housing repair.

Many of the chosen areas may include buildings that are either listed or deserve to be considered for conservation area designation. A partnership between local bodies, housing departments, conservation officers and English Heritage can ensure that the substantial funds available will be used not merely to repair buildings, but to respect and restore real architectural quality and the special sense of place that often exists, masked by neglect and low resources. Previous attempts at estate regeneration in the public sector have often been criticised for being only skin deep and not addressing the causes of decay. Repairs and changes that do not respect the positive characteristics of buildings and places can often lead to a new spiral of decay.

The substantial new government funding is a spectacular opportunity to recover post-war optimism, rediscover the hidden riches of modern social architecture and enhance the lives of some of the most deprived people in our cities.

Heading east from the domestic scale of Lansbury, we come to a different architectural world, the Brownfield estate. Most of the estate is made up of unremarkable LCC and Poplar Council four-storey maisonettes. In St Leonards Road, however, is Balfron Tower, part of a housing development designed by Ernö Goldfinger, begun for the LCC in 1963. Balfron Tower is a boldly modelled concrete tower block containing ten maisonettes and 136 flats. It is a major landmark and shows Goldfinger’s mastery of concrete, which he gained in the 1920s with Auguste Perret in Paris. Balfron Tower is also notable for the clever device of having a separate lift and stair tower, linked at every third floor to the main block. This device reduced the need for corridors, thereby permitted more spacious flats, and providing a dramatic architectural articulation of the building form. Balfron Tower is complemented by a subsidiary group of buildings including flats for the elderly, a shop, community centre and under grounding car parking. The development was carried on to Goldfinger’s design in a more softly spoken idiom over the next ten years in further smaller blocks beyond the adjacent Carradale House.

Balfron Tower and its attendant building group constitute a major achievement of full-blooded modern architecture in the post-war period. It demonstrates that a social housing programme can be achieved with dramatic and high-quality architecture.

Thumb 2002 28 days later
28 Days Later
Film
Danny Boyle, 2002

In an oral history interview a resident presented me with a photograph taken from their balcony during the filming of 28 Days Later. It showed bloodied mannequins strewn across the podium of the tower and in the children's playground.

In Danny Boyle’s harrowing sci-fi horror 28 Days Later, we view a deserted London through the haunting and gritty lens of digital video cameras giving the immediacy of a documentary. Jim and Selina wander abandoned streets, survivors of a virus that has spread to humans turning them into 'the infected’, frothing killers that attack in vicious bands. Balfron Tower offers the couple temporary salvation. They scale a barricade of upturned shopping trolleys - “What is it about tower blocks and shopping trolleys?” Jim asks - and escape zombies on the stairwell, climbing all the way to reach a candlelit top-floor flat occupied by a father and his daughter, the iron-gated number 157. 

Without running water, they visit the roof strewn with buckets and plastic sheeting to collect rainwater, but have to leave as the threat of attack grows by the day. “Sound carries in this flat, you know, jerry-built I suppose.”

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The architect did not live to experience the belated appreciation of one of his finest buildings. Ernö Goldfinger died in 1987 at the time when his Trellick Tower, built for the GLC, had fallen into disrepute as a place of social trouble and violence. Meanwhile the Tower enjoys growing acceptance - above all by the young and prosperous adults who now populate it. Its predecessor, Balfron Tower in the East End, is still awaiting such gentrification.

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Page(s): 157-162

Ernö grasped the opportunity to make a public commitment to the virtues of high-rise living. The building might look foreboding from the outside but, as he hoped to demonstrate, that was completely compatible with well-planned living spaces, with stunning views across London, daylight, heating and all the prerequisites for twentieth-century city living. In what even his critics conceded was at the very least an inspired publicity stunt, he and Ursula lived for two months in flat 130 on the twenty-sixth floor from February 1968, paying the full unsubsidised rent of £11.10s (compared with the subsidised rent of $4.15s.6d that council tenants would pay for the same flat). This resulted in coverage by the national press, television and radio, almost all of it favourable. Ernö even received fanmail, so unusual was it for an architect to inhabit the building he had designed, particularly when the building was intended as social housing and built on a tight budget. Ernö, Ursula and various members of the GLC posed for photographers on their balcony overlooking the Thames; television and radio interviewers made appointments to visit. But the Goldfinger’s stay was more than just publicity and a series of photo-opportunities. It was completely consistent with his view of the art of architecture that Ernö should want to experience the enclosed space he had created form the inside. He recognised the extent to which his designs would shape people’s lives and that this brought with it responsibilities:

“Families will spend most of their lives in the flats I design. I must do everything possible to iron out problems.”

He was also keen to answer critics of high-rise living, many of whom had never tried it and so in one sense didn’t know what they were talking about. He would be able to give a far more informed opinion of the benefits and problems when he had experienced them himself. Balfron was planned as the first of many high-rises he would design, and he wanted to benefit from this opportunity to learn about what worked and what needed further thought.

In fact Ernö’s empiricism paid off, both as promotion for high-rise living and as experimental testing of his design. One of the more frustrating features of Balfron, and not one that could be easily remedied within that building, was that there were only two lifts.

For the Goldfingers there was no question of simply living in the building and observing its functioning in a non-interactive way. They had a mission to facilitate the social intermingling of the tenants, ‘my tenants’ as Goldfinger grandly referred to them, though the phrase carried with it not just an arrogance (they were after all the GLC’s tenants), but also connotations of fatherly concern. This was social housing, not just housing. Goldfinger was well aware that for this project to work effectively, the people living within it had to relate appropriately to each other:

“The success of any scheme depends on the human factor – the relationships of people to each other and the frame of their daily life which the building provides.”

The building was the shell within which these relationships evolved, though obviously its design and upkeep could facilitate or hinder their interactions.

In the case of Balfron, many of the tenants already knew each other because most of them had been rehoused street by street from the surrounding neighbourhood. Of the first 160 families housed in Balfron, only two were outside Tower Hamlets. Wherever possible, former neighbours were rehoused in flats sharing a common access gallery. The Goldfingers engaged in some gentle and well-lubricated social engineering by organising a series of parties. Floor by floor they invited the tenants up to their flat for champagne (a second fridge had to be installed to keep supplies well-chilled) and a chance to meet their neighbours as well as the the architect.

The Goldfingers’ genuine desire for the project to be a success, together with their approachability, were greatly appreciated. Those who met Ernö did not doubt his sincerity: ‘he was really considerate’ one declared, ‘He kept coming back after he had left to see how we were getting on.’ Ursula transcribed into her notebook how another woman expressed her enthusiasm: ‘Mrs Goldfinger you should stay longer! You are ACCEPTED! I know all the tenants and I’m telling the truth. You are ACCEPTED!’ Ursula would chat to neighbours in the lifts about their new homes or visit them, giving them the chance to point to flaws in the design of the buildings. She never heard anybody express the slightest regret about having left their old East End terraced houses, though they did have worries about the difficulty of cleaning windows, draughts, heating services not working properly, and the trumpeting noises in high winds. Many of the tenants, though, were exuberant about their new homes: ‘I wouldn’t change it for Buckingham Palace’ one declared.

Copyright Nigel Warburton

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Page(s): 157-162

In the case of Balfron, many of the tenants already knew each other because most of them had been rehoused street by street from the surrounding neighbourhood. Of the first 160 families housed in Balfron, only two were outside Tower Hamlets. Wherever possible, former neighbours were rehoused in flats sharing a common access gallery. 

Copyright Nigel Warburton

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Page(s): 157-162

Ursula would chat to neighbours in the lifts about their new homes or visit them, giving them the chance to point to flaws in the design of the buildings. She never heard anybody express the slightest regret about having left their old East End terraced houses, though they did have worries about the difficulty of cleaning windows, draughts, heating services not working properly, and the trumpeting noises in high winds. Many of the tenants, though, were exuberant about their new homes: ‘I wouldn’t change it for Buckingham Palace’ one declared.

Copyright Nigel Warburton

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Thumb 2005 the buildings of england london 5 east
The Buildings of England, London 5: East
Book
Bridget Cherry, Charles O'Brien and Nikolaus Pevsner, 2005
Page(s): 656-7

To its E, on a difficult side close to the Northern Approach Road, BALFRON TOWER, part of the BROWNFIELD ESTATE by Ernö Goldfinger for the GLC, 1965-7. Its superior quality is at once apparent. The twenty-six-storey block is immediately arresting, with its slender semi-detached tower containing lift, services, and chunky oversailing boiler house. It was Goldfinger’s first public housing, a precursor of his similarly arranged and better known Trellick Tower, N Kensington. The lifts serve every third floor, and the flats vary in size. The rugged concrete surfaces have worn well, and contrast effectively with the floor-to-ceiling glazing. Equally impressive is the way in which this and the neighbouring CARRADALE HOUSE, 1967-9, are integrated within the surrounding spaces by well-detailed hard landscaping. Carradale House is a slab block of eleven storeys, with lift block in the centre, and some variety created by intermediate balconies. W of St Leonard’s Road the fifteen-storey GLENKERRY has more streamlined concrete balconies, curved at the ends. Banded concrete details, alternating with pale brick, are continued by two lower blocks along the planted walk to the W. The promising start gives way to an indifferent grid of the usual LCC/GLC mix of slabs of flats and lower terraces.

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Poplar HARCA believes a transformation is possible for Balfron and Carradale. Key to this transformation is giving people a choice.

We will offer new homes on the Brownfield Estate to residents of the two blocks should they choose to move out.

After refurbishment the empty flats, whose residents have chosen to relocate to the new homes built in and around the estate, will be sold on the open market. This will help fund the building of the new replacement homes for Balfron and Carradale residents and create a mixed community within these buildings. This option means no resident will lose their home involuntarily and will give families who choose the home that they want.

By selling some of the homes in the tower blocks, we can create a mixed community of people who want to live in them and facilitate the much-needed investment. 

This scheme allows for the refurbishment of Balfron and Carradale. It will give real choice to the existing residents, facilitate the building of a real, mixed community and improve the quality of the existing public open spaces, creating quality games and play spaces. 

Residents will get a real choice of where they live, social issues will be addressed, Brownfield Estate should once again become a thriving, vibrant and sustainable community in line with the ethos of our organisation.

Balfron Tower and Carradale House form part of a suite of buildings on the Brownfield Estate in Poplar. Representative of the style of the British Brutalist architecture movement, they were designed by the Hungarian-born architect Ernö Goldfinger, who also designed Trellick Tower.

Their concrete construction, detached circulation towers and prominent detailing inside and out easily distinguish the buildings.

The 25 storey Balfron Tower built in 1967 and the 10 storey Carradale House built in 1972 form bookends to the dying days of mass social housing tower blocks. The flats within the buildings are well-designed and conform to the generous Parker Morris space standards. Many of the flats have extraordinary views over the city, most with dual-aspect. Both buildings have Grade II listed status. 

However many of the building’s design features have contributed to the current state of neglect - long, anonymous corridors which were originally intended to create streets-in-the-sky, have instead created spaces that are difficult to control and manage. The type of construction used, especially the internal services to flats, has created a range of problems for existing residents and any attempt for renewal or refurbishment.

The public spaces around the blocks have also become neglected and abused. Hidden areas lack passive surveillance opportunities or ownership and house abandoned cars and drug dens. The ground-level play areas were closed shortly after the buildings opened and their design problems have never been properly addressed.

Despite the obvious negative perceptions of Balfron Tower and Carradale House, there are many residents that appreciate their location and far-reaching view and architecture.

There are many problems with Balfron and Carradale: 

  • externally the buildings suffer from concrete corrosion, this will be difficult to repair and match with the existing finish as required by their conservation status; 
  • the underground garages are poorly lit and intimidating, they suffer from constant vandalism, water leaks from above and discarded rubbish. A large number are sealed-off and disused;
  • the flat roofing is in serious need of improvement;
  • all windows, including the U-PVC units fitted a few years ago require extensive repairs and will require ongoing maintenance. The buildings will have to be completely scaffolded to achieve this;
  • the play areas are overgrown and neglected;
  • the sheltered homes are without proper access for elderly residents that they were designed for. They suffer from poor security as well as rubbish discarded from Balfron Tower;
  • the ground-floor maisonettes in Balfron have gardens that are poorly fenced and maintained, further contributing to its run down appearance;
  • the rubbish collection includes the use of an open skip below the entrance walkway which is unhygienic and prompts fly-tipping.

Internally the story continues:

  • the buildings are riddled with asbestos;
  • the internal wiring runs within the steel door frames and floor screed, in many frames the conduit has corroded. In-situ re-wiring is not possible;
  • water from the corroded service pipes seeps through the wiring conduit and can drip through light fittings;
  • the water pipes are also laid within the screed. Water leaks from corroded pipes often cause problems in Carradale House;
  • because the communal heating boilers are located at the top of the buildings, fuel oil must be pumped from basement storage tanks. Corrosion in the fuel-riser pipes recently caused the liv shafts to be flooded with heating oil;
  • leaking pipes in the boiler room allow water to drip into the entrance lobby below;
  • concealed service pipes pass through the building structure without protective sleeving, this allows corrosive chemicals in the concrete to attack the pipework;
  • there is no pressure relief to the heating system which is fed with water from the roof-top tanks, consequently the lower flats experience extremely high water pressure;
  • as the system with its inherent corrosion problem reaches the end of its natural life, major emergency works will be necessary before refurbishment works can be started;
  • the extract system that ventilates the internal toilets and bathrooms no longer functions causing condensation and mould-growth;
  • a lack of security has led to the water tank room being used for drug-taking and squatters inhabiting basement service rooms and pram stores;
  • service cores are very poorly-lit with severely rusted access-ladders, leaking pipes and vermin infestation. It is unlikely that these service cores could accommodate essential refurbished services because of current health and safety legislation;
  • lift lobbies are in poor condition with the original finishes worn and damaged;
  • the lifts regularly fail;
  • rubbish chutes are damaged in many places and are too small, causing regular blockages;
  • sound-transmission between flats is an issue, as many party walls were constructed in lightweight concrete block-work.
Thumb 2006 press cuttings

ERNÖ GOLDFINGER: Architect (1902-1987), Designing Modern Britain - Design Museum, Until 26 November 2006
Goldfinger’s tower blocks have since confounded his critics by proving to be robustly built and imaginatively planned. The Champagne parties at which he listened to – and learnt from – the complaints of the residents of Balfron Tower illustrate the underlying humanism in his architecture. Today the flats in Trellick, many of which passed into private ownership during the 1990s, are greatly sought after. Yet ambitious though he was for these monumental public schemes, even Goldfinger’s admirers concur that his best buildings were his smaller, beautifully proportioned and impeccably detailed projects at Albermarle Street and Willow Road where, the modern houses which once outraged Hampstead’s conservationists now belong to the National Trust.

Thumb 2006 09 east india estate leaseholders letter
East India Estate Leaseholders letter
Legal
London Borough of Tower Hamlets, 2006
Thumb 2006 08 east india estate offer
East India Estates Offer
Legal
London Borough of Tower Hamlets, 2006
Page(s): 23

In addition to the major refurbishment of both Balfron Tower and Carradale House, Poplar HARCA also proposes to build 130 new homes on the Brownfield Estate in the locations shown on the plans in this document. These new homes will be a mixture of family houses, flats and maisonettes which will be either for rent or for sale. 

Page(s): 24-6

3.4.5 New homes on Brownfield and the “choices” option 
In addition to the major refurbishment of both Balfron Tower and Carradale House, Poplar HARCA also proposes to build 130 new homes on the Brownfield Estate in the locations shown on the plans in this document. These new homes will be a mixture of family houses, flats and maisonettes which will be either for rent or for sale. These new homes will be offered as a priority for residents in Balfron Tower and Carradale House to move into if they choose to do so. Where this option is taken up, the properties vacated in Balfron Tower and Carradale House will be sold as a means of providing additional funding towards the regeneration of the Estate. 
Residents of both blocks will be given a choice as to whether they wish to remain in their current home whilst the repairs and improvement work is carried out or move to one of these new homes being built on the Estate. This choice will be available both to tenants and resident leaseholders in both blocks. 

Soon after the ballot, if there is a ‘yes vote’ in favour of transfer, Poplar HARCA will visit each resident in Balfron Tower and Carradale House to establish what their preference would be for their home in the future. At this stage individual preferences and needs will be established so that the new homes can be planned and built to meet the needs of those tenants and leaseholders who have stated a preference to move. 

3.5 Proposals for moving home – Residents who choose to move from Balfron Tower and Carradale House only 
If the transfer goes ahead, and subject to the usual consents being obtained to build new homes, e.g. planning permission, residents living in Balfron Tower and Carradale House will be given a choice to stay in their existing home or move to a new home to be built on the Brownfield Estate. This is outlined above as the ‘Choices Scheme’. The new accommodation will be built to suit the needs of those choosing to move and therefore, if the transfer goes ahead, every family wishing to move will have an individual discussion about their specific needs with a housing officer. 

Residents who choose to move home will be allocated to properties which are the appropriate size for their household. 

Secure tenants who choose to be moved will be asked to identify their preferred new home from those available.

If the transfer goes ahead, Poplar HARCA proposes to build 130 new homes on the Brownfield Estate which will accommodate just over half of the current population of the two blocks. This number of new homes has been proposed for two reasons: 

  1. Consultation undertaken has shown that approximately half of the residents in the two blocks said that they would prefer to move out and
  2. This number of new homes has been agreed in principle as a reasonable number for the Estate in planning terms.
Thumb 2006 09 leaseholder consultation document
Page(s): 17

In addition to the major refurbishment of both Balfron Tower and Carradale House, Poplar HARCA also proposes to build 130 new homes on the Brownfield Estate. These new homes will be a mixture of family houses, flats and maisonettes which will be either for rent or for sale. 

Page(s): 17

2.4.4 Balfron Tower and Carradale House 
The key benefits to residents of Balfron Tower and Carradale House from the proposals in this document would be as follows: 
􏰃All residents in the two blocks will get a choice of moving home or remaining in the block as set out below 

2.4.5 New Homes on Brownfield and the “Choices” option 
Residents of both blocks will be given a choice as to whether they wish to remain in their current home whilst the repairs and improvement work is carried out or move to one of these new homes being built on the Estate. This choice will be available both to tenants and resident leaseholders in both blocks. 

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This situation is not exceptional; similarly, once disdained modern buildings such as the housing tower blocks by Goldfinger are now valued, not as curiosities, but as good architecture. 

Thumb 2007 press cuttings

Nigel Warburton
When I lived there I was stunned not only by the views over the Blackwall Tunnel approach road (which, admittedly, is very noisy - more on that later) but over the Thames to Greenwich on one side, and to Tower Bridge and beyond on the other. Sunsets were stunning, and herons often cruised past the window.

Copyright Nigel Warburton

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Lynsey Hanley discusses Nigel Warburton’s description of the Goldfingers' stay in Balfron, declaring that:

'Nigel Warburton's defensive biography of Goldfinger claims that the architect's council-flat soujourn (he only stayed there for two months) wasn't a condescending publicity stunt, but a genuine attempt to show solidarity with his temporary neighbours. I can't help thinking this is gubbins. If he had really wanted to live among the people who had been housed in his creation, would he not have ditched the house in far-away Hampstead and moved full-time to Balfron Tower, with its unbroken views of industrial east London, the docks and the Blackwall tunnel?'

Wow. It's hard to know where to start with this. I'll ignore the 'defensive' and concentrate on the uncontroversial misrepresentations. First, I never gave such a crude description of Goldfinger's motivations for moving into Balfron. I really don't believe that this was an attempt to 'show solidarity with his temporary neighbours' and never suggested that it was. Even though he was a Marxist, that was not his purpose in living in Balfron. I really don't know where Hanley got that idea from. As I say in my biography (Warburton, p.157) this was a wonderful opportunity for Goldfinger to display  his commitment to high-rise living:

'The building might look forebidding from the outside, but, as he hoped to demonstrate, that was completely compatible with well-planned living spaces, with stunning views across London, daylight, heating and all the prerequisites for twentieth-century city living. In what even his critics conceded was at the very least an inspired publicity stunt, he and Ursula [Ursula née Blackwell, his wife] lived for two months in flat 130 on the twenty-sixth floor...'

As I go on to say in the book, living in the space he had created was also completely consistent with his views on the nature of architecture, namely that it is an art of enclosing space - to appreciate any work of architecture you need to experience it from within.  I also acknowledge that to some degree it was a pretext for press attention. Much of his interest in living in Balfron was architectural, though. Goldfinger was an empiricist. He wanted evidence and feedback on what worked and what didn't. I quoted his words on this in my book:

'I want to experience, at first hand, the size of the rooms, the amenities provided, the time it takes to obtain a lift, the amount of wind whirling around the tower and any problems which might arise from my designs so that I can correct them in the future.' (Ernö Goldfinger quoted in Warburton, p.158)

I don't understand how Hanley got from this to notions of wanting to live among the people out of a sense of solidarity. I also point out that:

'He had also often declared that he built homes he would himself be happy to live in' (Warburton, p.158).

ADDENDUM 3/2/07
James Dunnett, who worked with Goldfinger on several projects and has written extensively about the architect, emailed me to say:

"I don't think Goldfinger was seeking publicity by going to live in Balfron: it was a serious attempt to assess life there, and Ursula's detailed notes of conversations with neighbours etc are there to prove it. He was an intensely practical man who wanted to know the answers. He never even had the building properly photographed.

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Another attack from Lynsey Hanley:

'Warburton claims that Goldfinger never gave up his socialist ideals, but if that were the case, why did he consent of working-class people to be housed in such an unprepossessing place?' (Hanley, p.113)

This is where Hanley has definitely lost it: the preceding sentence which apparently glosses  'unprepossessing' is

'There seemed to be something quite wrong about making children live in machines, next to roads clogged with lorries, the acrid smell of riverside industry filling their lungs every day, their noses rubbed into other people's wealth by the gleaming Docklands skyscrapers on their doorstep.' (Hanley, p.113).

Yes, who could disagree? Children shouldn't have to inhale pollution. The allusion to Corbusier's 'machines for living' neglects the fact that Goldfinger's own house in the cleaner environment of Hampstead would also be a 'machine' in these architects' views, so that is a bit of cheap rhetoric...BUT... having been born in 1976 (as Hanley was) is no excuse for the horrific anachronism implied in this quotation. Does she really believe that the Docklands development pre-dated Balfron Tower? If so, she has no credibility whatsoever. Why should anyone take her views on social housing seriously with this level of scholarship? This statement makes me want to give the book to Oxfam, rather than read it. I remember watching Canary Wharf going up level by level from a room in Balfron tower in 1990-1...but Balfron Tower was completed in 1967.

With a degree of magnanimity Hanley concedes 'The architect was not truly to blame for the crime and ignominy that blighted Trellick Tower, in particular in the late 1970s and early 1980s' (Hanley, p.113). But she then goes on to accuse me of letting the architect 'off the hook'...with the snide comment:

'Nevertheless this statement [not obvious what this refers to as no statement is quoted] suggests that there are certain classes of people who can't be trusted to live in any building that was designed by a great man of socialist ideals and spectacular taste in interior design' (Hanley, p.114).

Does it? Well, it is certainly true that some people make better tenants than others...and that is true whatever the social housing in question. It is sentimentality or wishful thinking to believe otherwise. It doesn't matter who built the building, or how spectacular the taste in interior design. The 'great man' thing, where did that come from?

It is interesting that Hanley seems to see me as an unequivocal champion of Goldfinger's tower blocks. But there is much in my biography that expresses reservation and recognises shortcomings. She sneers at my description of Trellick as having nothing quaint or homely about its exterior (but fails to read this in the context of Goldfinger's views about architecture as essentially the art of enclosing space that needs to be experienced from within). I also quote the architect James Dunnett, who worked closely with Goldfinger, on the martial allusions in Trellick's exterior: the slit-windows imparting 'a sense of terror' (Dunnett quoted on p.157 or Warburton). I think it is fair to say that both James Dunnett and I recognise that Balfron Tower is uncompromising and for many people a threatening and unattractive building.

Bizarrely, despite my emphasis on the sublime rather than the beautiful, Hanley writes:

'Both Warburton and Dunnett seem to fall for the idea that housing should be art. It ought to be beautiful, yes, but not at the expense of the people who have to live in it. Or is living in a council flat supposed to be delicately terrifying?' (Hanley, p.114)

No. No. No. Where did she get that idea? Neither of us are that crass. There is a big difference between the experience from within and the experience from outside...But I suspect I have already dignified this rather odd attack with too much blogspace...And now I've looked closely at these three pages, I don't think I'll bother reading the rest. If you feel you'd like to, check out Oxfam bookshop in the next few days.

P.S. Isn't it mysterious that flats in Balfron and Trellick Tower change hands for such high prices these days when they come on the market (e.g. one advertised here for £260,000). They must be such terrible flats to live in. Is this all a con?

Copyright Nigel Warburton

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Thumb 2007 sacred causes

Aided by mafia-like local authorities, modernist architects built their brave new worlds - at Park Hill in Sheffield, or Ernö Goldfinger’s projects in London’s Camberwell or Poplar. Glamorised visual projections showed happy housewives exchanging the time of day on their disconnected twelfth-floor walkways; the current reality of these shoddy constructions, like the Balfron Tower in Poplar, being condensation stains on concrete, lifts reeking of urine, rotting windows and infestations of crack addicts. 

Thumb 2007 03 balfron tower conservation area
Balfron Tower Conservation area
Survey
London Borough of Tower Hamlets, 2007
Page(s): 4-7

The Balfron Tower Conservation Area was designated in October 1998 around the two residential blocks designed by Ernö Goldfinger for the London County Council in the 1960s. The Conservation Area boundary protects the listed Balfron Tower and Carradale House, and other buildings in the ‘Brownfield Estate’, including Glenkerry House, a community centre, shops and associated low-rise housing development. 

The 27-storey Balfron Tower is Goldfinger’s first public housing project, and a precursor to his better known Trellick Tower in North Kensington. The neighbouring Carradale House and Glenkerry House sit within the landscaped areas developed at the same time. The Brownfield Estate (also known as the East India Estate) is now recognised as a fine example of planned 1960s social housing. Considered to be exemplary examples of the post-war housing schemes, Balfron Tower and Carradale House were listed in 1998 for their cultural & architectural merit. 

The Balfron Tower Conservation Area mainly consists of the low and high-rise council flats of the Brownfield Estate. It lies to the north-east of Lansbury, the Festival of Britain’s Architectural Exhibition site, which was developed in 1951 following similar clearance. Balfron Tower dominates this landmark development and is representative of the post-war aspirations for good quality public housing. The tower is a significant realisation of many design concepts of the modern movement, expressing the social idealism of the time. 

This is an area of particular special architectural and historic interest, illustrated by its rich history and significant architecture, dating from the 20th century. The character and appearance of the area, as described in this appraisal, define its special qualities.

Thumb 2007 06 transfer of the teviot brownfield and aberfeldy estates to poplar harca full council minutes
Page(s): 4

6 OUTLINE OF THE REGENERATION PROPOSALS 
6.3  As part of the regeneration proposals tenants and leaseholders of Balfron Tower and Carradale House will be offered the opportunity of moving out of these blocks into new homes, which Poplar HARCA proposes to build within the Brownfield Estate and immediate area. A total of 130 mixed tenure homes will include family houses, flats and maisonettes will be made available in the first instance to residents of Balfron Tower and Carradale House. The exact tenure mix of the new homes will depend upon how many Balfron and Carradale residents, both tenants and leaseholders take up the option to move. Where this option is taken up, the properties vacated in Balfron Tower and Carradale House will be refurbished and sold, to provide additional funding towards the cost of building the new homes and regeneration of the Estates. Overall there will be no loss of homes for rent on the Brownfield Estate. 

Page(s): 4

6 OUTLINE OF THE REGENERATION PROPOSALS 
6.3  As part of the regeneration proposals tenants and leaseholders of Balfron Tower and Carradale House will be offered the opportunity of moving out of these blocks into new homes, which Poplar HARCA proposes to build within the Brownfield Estate and immediate area. A total of 130 mixed tenure homes will include family houses, flats and maisonettes will be made available in the first instance to residents of Balfron Tower and Carradale House. The exact tenure mix of the new homes will depend upon how many Balfron and Carradale residents, both tenants and leaseholders take up the option to move. Where this option is taken up, the properties vacated in Balfron Tower and Carradale House will be refurbished and sold, to provide additional funding towards the cost of building the new homes and regeneration of the Estates. Overall there will be no loss of homes for rent on the Brownfield Estate. 

Thumb 2007 07 overview scrutiny committee
Meeting of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee
Legal
London Borough of Tower Hamlets, 2007
Thumb 2007 12 conservation management plan vol ia
Page(s): 11

1.3.2.1 Historic and social value of urban concept 
The estate is an example of large-scale urban design after World War II which demonstrated a departure from traditional ideas underpinning urban planning and concepts for social housing and proposed a new model for the future. 

Although many of the concepts realised in the estate enjoyed a wider contemporary currency, it has particular value as a pioneering example of dense urban redevelopment, designed by one of the foremost modern architects of the period. It exhibits a discipline and refinement untypical of the genre and these values should be respected and protected, for their architectural quality, conviction and integrity.

1.3.2.2 Holistic significance 
The estate should be understood and appreciated in its entirety, not only as an aggregate of separate components. The residential, community, recreational, and commercial buildings and the external spaces between them form a whole architectural and social composition. The buildings are significant as a family group of sculptural forms. The views from and into the estate have become important, and part of interest lies in its distinctive identity and contrasting relationship to adjacent buildings, routes and the wider East End of London.

Page(s): 11

The estate is an example of large-scale urban design after World War II which demonstrated a departure from traditional ideas underpinning urban planning and concepts for social housing and proposed a new model for the future. 

Although many of the concepts realised in the estate enjoyed a wider contemporary currency, it has particular value as a pioneering example of dense urban redevelopment, designed by one of the foremost modern architects of the period. It exhibits a discipline and refinement untypical of the genre and these values should be respected and protected, for their architectural quality, conviction and integrity.

The estate should be understood and appreciated in its entirety, not only as an aggregate of separate components. The residential, community, recreational, and commercial buildings and the external spaces between them form a whole architectural and social composition. The buildings are significant as a family group of sculptural forms. The views from and into the estate have become important, and part of interest lies in its distinctive identity and contrasting relationship to adjacent buildings, routes and the wider East End of London.

Thumb 2007 12 schedule 01
Page(s): 5

2.10 Rights of Tenants FollowingTransfer 
The Company shall use best endeavours (save that in relation to any works referred to in Clause 2.9 and 2.13 the limitations on the Company’s obligation set out therein shall apply) to fulfil all of the promises to Qualifying Tenants made on behalf of the Company as set out in the Consultation Document and in particular but without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing to ensure all Qualifying Tenants of the Company are given the additional rights as follows: 

2.10.1 Security of Tenure 
The Company shall not seek to gain possession of any of the Dwellings occupied by the Qualifying Tenants on any grounds other than those set out in the Assured Tenancy Agreement notwithstanding that it may have a statutory right to use other grounds for possession under the Housing Act 1988, nor will it seek to gain possession in relation to the succession by any person who has a right of succession under Clause 5.7 of the Assured Tenancy Agreement or who would have had such right if the Assured Tenancy had not been varied save to the extent that possession proceedings are necessary to ensure the succession of such persons.

Page(s): Fifth Schedule 9

2.26.5 The Company hereby agrees that it shall (subject to receiving all necessary consents for the same) use all reasonable endeavours/to build or procure to be built 130 Dwellings or an equal number of habitable rooms [to those sold] to enable the Housing Choice Option to be exercised by residents of Balfron [Tower] and Carradale.[House].

2.26.6 Subject to the availability of funding the Company shall be entitled to build or procure to be built up to a maximum of [326] residential dwellings for private sale. The Company shall be further entitled to build or procure to be built additional residential dwellings beyond those set out in this clause subject to giving prior notice in writing additional residential dwellings or such other percentage as may be reasonably of such intention to the Council. The Company hereby agrees that 35% of such required by the appropriate planning authorities from time to time shall be designated social housing.

Page(s): 11-12 Seventeenth Schedule

To undertake a complete cycle of refurbishment works to the housing stock to be transferred including but not limited to:- 

  • Modernisation of bathrooms - full replacement as necessary including a choice of tiled surrounds and a choice of new floor coverings and the installation of a separate W.C and/or mechanical ventilation where appropriate
  • Modernisation of kitchens - full replacement as necessary including rewiring plumbing and fittings and the removal of the larder with a choice of splash back tile colours worktops kitchen units and non-slip floor coverings to make good finishes. Hatchways will be filled, kitchen doors will be replaced and mechanical ventilation will be installed where appropriate
  • Thermal improvement - upgrade the thermal insulation to include the renewal of central heating systems and/or components as necessary (i.e boilers and radiators) and the insulation of cavity walls to building regulation standards where possible and to provide insulated render overclad and insulation to external walls. Removal of gas meters where necessary
  • Roof repairs and renewals - including a survey or all roofs for defects repairing where necessary. Where a roof has come to the end of its useful life if will be entirely renewed and insulation will be increased in line with current regulations. Fire break installations where necessary. 
  • Communal area improvements - including decoration and improvements to halls, stairs, landings and corridors where appropriate 
  • External works - to include the decoration of all properties where necessary, the investigation of and repair to any structural issues and repair to brickwork chimneys and concrete as required 
  • Windows and doors repair and renewals - including replacing all original windows with new double glazed units. On blocks where these have been replaced these will be overhauled thoroughly with controlled ventilation and high quality handles and latches. Where appropriate the doors to tenants' homes will be replaced including the railings, balustrades, asphalt surfaces, floor finish, soffits, fascia boards and screens where necessary
  • Balcony and walkway repairs - private and communal balconies will be repaired and upgraded
  • Door Entry System works - to include overhaul of systems, replacement, if necessary, and installation of new systems subject to the agreement of the majority of residents following further consultation. Door entry systems will be refurbished where necessary to include entrance/security screens at the front and rear. New entrance porches and entrance lobbies will be introduced where required 
  • Essential Landlord services improvement - including repairs and improvements to lighting and lightning conductors as necessary and also to fire-fighting/protection, gas, water and electric mains and adequate lighting for all stairs landings and balconies. Lifts will be replaced, repaired or overhauled as necessary and the water tanks in blocks will be overhauled or be replaced as necessary 
  • Essential internal services - improvements to electrical services including installation of circuit breakers, safe adequate wiring and sufficient sockets to meet modern needs. Asbestos will be removed where necessary in private and common areas 
  • Drainage works - including repairs replacement or overhaul of drains, renewal of defective gutters, rainwater pipes and soil and vent pipes and the overhaul of water tanks, tank rooms and dry risers. Works will also include the upgrading of above ground foul drainage, above ground surface water drainage and drainage for balconies 
  • Refuse disposal systems- improved systems to be introduced to avoid open chute chambers and the provision of recycling facilities on each estate where possible 
  • Block entrances improvements- with a focus on reducing anti-social behaviour, excluding intruders and enhancing the appearance of the blocks 
  • Landlord services improvements- including the upgrade of all communal satellite/digitalTV aerials and multi-compartment trunking on access balconies to protect wires for phones, cable TV,  lighting etc 
  • Landscaping and external environment works- to include estate landscaping, soft landscaping and boundary treatments with works on parking areas and other works to be carried out on estate lighting, outbuildings/garage stores and infrastructure, as required.
Thumb 2008 key urban housing of the twentieth century plans sections and elevations
Page(s): 138-9

According to James Dunnett and Gavin Stamp in Works, Goldfinger's distinct achievement in his post-war work is the expression of the frame. Described as having 'a rationalist and industrial conception of the world', Goldfinger had always considered the expression of structure and materials of key importance, as, for example, his earlier Willow Road terraced houses (1938) demonstrate. He used different modelling devices, such as recessed windows and projecting bays, but stopped short of a clear expression of the concrete frame. Other devices - the use of oversized steelwork sections, façades set back from the building line, or the pavement-edge use of large surfaces of plate glass - were all elements that had started to appear in his pre-war projects, for instance in the Abbott toyshop of 1936. Goldfinger also developed a concrete prefabrication system for use on London schools in the 1950s, with a regular grid of portal frames dominating the composition, and his Regents Park Road block of flats (1954) for a housing association had two apartments per floor and was constructed with a concrete frame. Goldfinger was also an advocate of choice, and with two flats per storey the use of a frame structure meant more flexibility in the interior layouts; bedrooms could be allocated to either flat, and tenants could choose between a small kitchen and a living/dining room or a kitchen/dining room and smaller living room. 

Ernö Goldfinger's housing work dates back to the 1920s: his first designs for Philippeville in 1929 were exhibited at the CIAM 1933 conference, and his studies for kitchen designs were published in L'Organistion Menagère in 1928. He also published his design principles in Planning your Home, Planning your Kitchen and Planning your Neighbourhood, as packs of 20 cards. He designed his first daylit 'street-in-the-air' enclosed access corridors for his first local authority housing project, Abbots Langley, in 1956 for Watford Council. Intended to be an improvement on Le Corbusier’s rue intérieure, it gave access on every third floor to a two-person flat and four-person apartments above and below. This nine-storey block, intended to maintain the open space and existing mature trees, was not acceptable to the council and was replaced in the revised built scheme with a four-storey block. The idea was thus not realized until the 1968 Balfron Tower in east London for the London County Council, which was effectively the prototype for the very similar Trellick Tower built in 1972, on the opposite side of the capital. The distinctive element is the lift tower, which is separated from the main block primarily for acoustic reasons and linked with bridges at every third floor level. The concrete surfaces, slit windows and the boiler rooms and chimneys cantilevering out at the top of the tower all contribute to its forbidding, fortress-like appearance. The footprint of both buildings is generally the same, but refinements to the design at Trellick include changes to the external proportions: four more storeys were added and the row of flats with 'pulpit' balconies, which introduces a horizontal break in the regular grid of the façade, was located higher up; the corner flats have windows and balconies on the south, main, façade; and the circulation tower is rotated to appear lighter in contrast to the main block. Refinements in technology included sophisticated electrical installations and double glazing fitted throughout as standard - important because of the nearby railway line. The interiors are spacious compared with other social-housing projects of the period, above the minimum Parker Morris standards in use in Britain at the time. There are two-person, four-person and six-person flats or maisonettes, with most extending the full depth of the block. The exceptionally wide structural bays, at 6.75 metres (22 feet 2 inches) with full-width balconies facing south, make the apartments appear very light, give a feeling of openness and afford spectacular views out.

Thumb 2008 05 habitat survey
Habitat Survey
Survey
Scott Wilson, 2008
Thumb 2009 architects who made london
Page(s): 12m40s

And then we’re into the final phase, of the big housing for the GLC…there we have it, standing up on its own, before its neighbours were built (which I’ll talk about later) the lift tower pulled apart from the slab block. This is not Le Corbusier’s Unité d’Habitation, although there are some similarities, it is the maisonette on two levels which allows you to put in the lift stops and corridors only every third floor. It was a device that was developed in the 1920s, it’s not original, but it’s turned into a very particular expression here that then gets reused at Trellick.

Here you see the buildings around cast shadows, Blackwall Tunnel Approach running across the foreground, this is a place that needs tough architecture and it certainly gets it here, and James [Dunnett] has written very movingly about it. Its castellated defences, second world war gun turret-type qualities, but the flats are pretty nice, and there is one that is quite often available to visit that now belongs to Tower Hamlets Council and they’ve done a very good job, I think, of educating people about this building by means of having this available. 

So there you can see the sort of skip stop corridor arrangement, and each of those flat plans you should read the middle either with the one above or the one below because you go in through the front door, and in some cases you immediately go downstairs and then you’re in the flat, and there are some which are single-storey on each level as well. 

And here, past and present, this bridge, drawbridge over a moat to enter the dark tower. The railway-carriage-profiled links that carry you, slightly precipitously over thin air, before you go into your flat. 

Note the contrast, the gas holders, the chimneys all gone. A changed landscape. Olympic stadia will no doubt loom into place. I mentioned the marble and here you have it. And it’s wonderful and not only the marble the concrete is wonderful as well. With those very warm coloured pebbles in the aggregate.

And this is what happens, you come out of the lift and you go through that door and in the middle picture you go through the railway carriage as it were and then you go into your enclosed corridor, no windswept, rainswept street decks here, it really is too high for that. Glazed towards the tunnel with sealed, double-glazed units from the start. And here, looking out over the landscape from a flat, if you like panoramas this is a good place to be.

But how the building meets the ground is something that architects worry about quite rightly because it is not at all easy to do. And this does it very neatly with the help of a sort of supporting cast of small buildings gathered around the base, not all of which are still there, but there are schemes afoot to try and make it nice, which I’m not sure is the right thing to do at this point in time. I think it wants to be safe, it wants to be useable, but the idea of softening it does seem to me to be the wrong move.

These are the flankers, coming up to what were really the last buildings that were built in this style, providing a sort of chorus of appreciation for the big act that towers up as you see there. It is a wonderful landmark, you really know where you are in East London when you see this, it does matter.

Thumb 2009 10 conservation strategy
Conservation Strategy
Survey
Chris Blandford Associates , 2009
Thumb 2009 10 management of the brownfield estate foi
Page(s): 1

The impact of the global financial downturn is also having an impact on the deliverability of certain aspects of the scheme due to provide the required cross subsidy. Poplar Harca has been looking at alternative solutions and funding models to ensure they are able to achieve the promises made in the offer document. 

2010

Thumb 2010 about now mmx
About Now MMX
Film
William Raban, 2010
Thumb 2010 01 cabe brownfield estate regeneration
CABE Brownfield Estate Regeneration
Survey
Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, 2010
Thumb 2010 02 estate monitoring foi
Estate Monitoring Freedom of Information request
Legal
London Borough of Tower Hamlets, 2010
Page(s): 2

The impact of the financial downturn is also having an impact on the deliverability of certain aspects of the scheme due to provide the required cross subsidy. Poplar Harca are currently looking at alternative solutions and funding models to try and achieve the promises made in the offer document. 

Thumb 2010 03 gla brownfield estate report
Page(s): 1-13

The Proposal
The demolition of 30 flats on three sites, and the construction of 144 flats and houses on four sites, including a 20-storey tower, and 150 sq.m of community space, together with associated landscaping. 

Housing and affordable housing 
At consultation stage, the Mayor noted that the development would provide 48.5% affordable housing, which is higher than the Council’s current provision. The tenure mix and variety of dwelling sizes is appropriate. The applicant’s viability assessment is robust, with higher than average exceptional costs required as a result of decanting existing residents across the estate. The proposal complies with Tower Hamlets’ interim housing guidance and emerging core strategy. The additional justification demonstrates that the proposed housing provision is acceptable and will address local need, and GLA officers are satisfied that the maximum potential provision of affordable housing will be provided. 

In response to its consultation, Tower Hamlets received 208 objections from local residents. Objections were made on the basis of: 
Housing: A lack of affordable housing provision, including family provision. 

Additionally, one letter of objection has been sent from a local resident directly to the Mayor. The resident requests that the Mayor consider issues of local affordability, stating that the criteria used by the developer will not help local people (“income will need to be £30,000, while the local average household income is £18,000), and objects to the level of family housing that would be provided within the scheme. 

Housing and affordable housing
London Plan Policy 3A.10 requires borough councils to seek the maximum reasonable amount of affordable housing when negotiating on individual private residential and mixed-use schemes. In doing so, each council should have regard to its own overall target for the amount of affordable housing provision. Policy 3A.9 states that such targets should be based on an assessment of regional and local housing need and a realistic assessment of supply, and should take account of the London Plan strategic target that 35% of housing should be social and 15% intermediate provision, and of the promotion of mixed and balanced communities. In addition, Policy 3A.10 encourages councils to have regard to the need to encourage rather than restrain residential development, and to the individual circumstances of the site. Targets should be applied flexibly, taking account of individual site costs, the availability of public subsidy and other scheme requirements. 

Paragraph 20.3 of the Housing SPG notes that in order for a development to achieve 100% replacement of demolished social rented units, development at significantly increased density may be necessary to generate sufficient value from market development to support replacement of affordable housing provision or to achieve a mixed and balanced community objective. In this instance it is important to note that there will be no net loss of affordable social rented housing. 

Three of the sites contain homes that will be demolished, incorporating 15 rented studio flats, 13 rented one-bedroom units and 2 private one-bed units. The development will provide 48.5% affordable housing (43.9% once demolition is taken into account). This overall figure is higher than the Council’s current provision. There is a high tenure mix across the estate, and although there will only be no net gain or loss of social rent affordable housing, there will be a gain in the number of habitable rooms. The net gain in the number of affordable units will be intermediate tenure (22 units), and this increase is supported by officers. Additional social rented units will be provided in future phases. Officers wish to inspect the scheme’s viability appraisal with regard to the level of affordable housing provision, as well as the wider benefits proposed by the scheme. 

Of the new affordable homes, there will be a tenure split of 60% social rented and 40% intermediate. This split is acceptable and is compliant with the levels recommended within the draft replacement London Plan. 

The proposed dwelling mix is appropriate and responds to local needs. 20 of the 114 units will be four- or five-bedroom homes. A further 23 will be three-bedroom homes. The combined figure of 43 units represents 38% of unit numbers as family homes. 

Thumb 2010 07 carradale house listed building application
Page(s): 15

Housing 
The overarching aspiration for Carradale House with regard to the affordable housing is to provide better quality homes in refurbished accommodation, to bring the dwellings up to “decent homes” standard. These aspirations are supported by PPS3: Housing, which highlights the need to retain and increase the amount of affordable housing across the Country.

Affordable Housing 
Carradale House comprises of 88 dwellings, of which 20 are owned by leaseholders (77% affordable housing overall). The development proposals do not seek to alter any aspect of the tenure of the block and therefore the proposals will not impact upon the amount of affordable housing or the tenure mix which will remain well above the required level of 35% affordable homes which applies to new developments.

Thumb 2010 08 ursula goldfinger s balfron tower diary and notes
Page(s): 22-23

Tuesday
to fetch, Hampstead: ironing board, corkscrew, blankets single bed, buy flowers

Saturday
Butcher Wicks on Poplar High St.
Baker Cowells St Leonards Rd
Fishmonger Chrisp St Market
Delicatessen
Fruit far end of Chrisp St Market

Wednesday
4.45 hairdresser
TV delivered
Shirley’s party

Thursday
Opening ceremony, cleaning, washing etc
Woman in lift said difficulty in cleaning windows, had to take down curtains… owing to glass being too near window frame

Friday
East wind blows through balcony and front door, makes laundry and stairs very cold

Entrance
The walk from the road to the entrance is pleasant and easy with prams etc. I have never heard a comment on it. Personally I like it, I find it a definite advantage to be able to walk to the launderette in Commercial Road and to the market on pedestrian ways. With a pram or children I would have considered this an even greater advantage.

Entrance Doors
Heavy and difficult to manage with prams and children especially in SW gale, doorhandles dismounted by hooligans on one occasion. Entrance hall adequate in size and agreeable.

Lifts
Very good when both are running and very bad if one out of action (quite frequent). Especially if people were moving in at the same time. Sufficiently large even with very large pram but if there was a large pram at the back by the time the mother had manoeuvred out, other people having to leave the lift for her to do so, the lift was liable to disappear before one could get in again. Definitely a larger lift where someone could hold the stop button while it was loading would be better.

The bridges
The swinging doors are extremely difficult to manage with parcels, more so with a pram. A single door that swings in both directions would be easier. I have noticed without exaggeration that everyone was helpful with the doors, not just to me but with each other or a child, or anyone at all. This applies to all age groups including teenagers. There is a very high spirit of courtesy.

Outside corridor
This is appallingly cold in an East wind. It is well kept, I have never seen rubbish in it at any time of day.Milk bottles are left outside doors all day as people are at work, never turned over or broken. some people have door mats outside. I have not yet heard that one has been stolen. This happened to me and friends of mine in Hampstead.

Flat entrance doors
The grilles above the doors let in a terrible amount of cold in an East wind, also under the doors. I believe most tenants have blocked the grilles up, I certainly would if I lived here permanently. In our flat the cold air did not rise to the first floor, but I think that particularly in the small flats it is very bad.

Flat entrance
Very good for size, possible to stand a small pram near the coats, coat hooks very useful. (Some difficulty in flats with stairs going down to flats.)

Staircase
Easy to go up or down. I hate the cement risers which are not possible to clean and look shoddy and tenement like. I should paint them a dark colour if I lived here, but I think they gave quite disappointing effect to the tenants as they moved in, quite out of character with the rest of the flat. The white rubber noses I found a nuisance to keep clean.

Living Room
Very good. I found it easy to feed six one end and seat six in easy chairs the other end very comfortably, the room kept warm easily I never heard a criticism of them. Everybody liked the balconies. The view when sitting in ours was obstructed by the window boxes, this did not worry me personally. I should like tiles on the balconies as it would be easier to keep clean, now it does not matter so much, in the summer one would bring a lot of dust into the sitting room from it. I saw one flat had lain linoleum on the balcony (flowered), everyone seems to be looking forward to planting their window boxes and these would look extremely attractive. The soil in the window boxes and these would look extremely attractive. The soil in the window boxes looks bad to me. I think the GLC might get out a leaflet on window box cultivation as most people have never planted anything in their lives and they might get discouraged. It might be an idea to have a window box competition or an attractive balcony competition. The only two criticism I have heard of the balconies was: a) rather small as it would only take 6 chairs! b) it should be netted in completely for children (I have heard that small children love playing on the balconies and don’t want to go out!)

Complaints from tenants
I have heard many people who live low down say they would like a flat higher up. I have heard no tenant who lives high up say they would like a flat lower down.

I have talked to a number of tenants mainly in the lift or walking to the shop. Bar the complaints of draughts from some windows, heating that didn’t work, they all said the flats were lovely. Those I have been into are beautifully kept, people are going to a lot of trouble to install them mostly with outrageously terrible furniture, carpets, curtains and ornaments, though I don’t think the designs of fabrics are much worse than those I see at the Design Centre. I have never heard anybody express regret for the terrace houses they have mostly come from.

Teenagers
Personally I think there is surprisingly little hooliganism considered the building is open to all corners. Maybe it is worse in the school holidays. The small children enjoy the bear pit, all ages get pleasure from rolling down the grass slopes. All ages like climbing up anything climbable.

Page(s): 22-23

As part of my MA research I spent several hours trawling through these documents, getting lost in duped flat layouts, corridors, concrete details and different garden layouts. I was particularly interested in box 170, which contained a folder titled ’Publicity’.

In this is a copy of the journal East London Papers (summer 1969) in which Goldfinger wrote an article about Balfron Tower, summing up his observations from the well publicised two months he and his wife Ursula spent living in a top floor flat in the spring of 1968 (immediately after the building opened). There is also a red Silvine exercise book, containing scrawled notes in black and red biro. The handwriting veers wildly off the lines, much is illegible and there are many crossings out. it is Ursula’s diary of their stay.

At the back there is a series of notes written towards the end of their stay. Based on her experience, observations and conversations with other residents, Ursula considers the day to day use of the building - how does one open the doors if carrying parcels or pushing a pram, how easy is it to use the lifts, which spaces are draughty, how easy is it to keep the balcony clean.

Ursula writes succinctly and pragmatically. She criticises and praises family, paying particular attention to the east of movement through the building. The overall feeling one gets is of great support for this huge experimental building that her husband has built, and of absolute conviction that they should learn as much as they can from it. Their stay in the tower was often criticised, dismissed as a cheap publicity stunt. Goldfinger certainly was a larger than life character, and not averse to a bit of publicity, but these notes indicate that there was more to their stay than the critics wanted to believe.

Thumb 2010 10 strategic guidance for safeguarding and improving the health of communities affected by estate regeneration in tower hamlets
Page(s): 13-14

5.1 BEFORE THE WORKS
This is the period when residents are informed about improvement plans. It is a time of anticipation, delay and worry. The resident maybe living in a poor physical environment that may be cold, damp and unsafe; they may be disabled and awaiting housing adaptations. The resident may be offered choices about the design of fixtures and fittings and be consulted about other potential home improvements.

Whole house and high-rise refurbishments typically involve relocation of existing residents during the period of improvements (decanting). Relocation can either be temporary, while homes are refurbished, or permanent. Relocation may be voluntary or compulsory. Residents moved to unfamiliar locations with unfamiliar neighbours can contribute towards anxiety, uncertainty and fear. Compulsory relocation has potentially far greater negative health impacts.

Residential relocation process

  • Develop a clear, coherent residential relocation strategy for whole house and high-rise refurbishments and new build.
  • Define open, transparent and equitable housing relocation systems and processes.
  • Make the strategy publicly accessible through a Website.
  • Involve tenants in the development of the strategy.
Thumb 2010 10 tower hamlets heritage resource
Tower Hamlets’ Heritage Resource
Survey
London Borough of Tower Hamlets, 2010
Letter to resident
Legal
Poplar HARCA, 2010

It is not correct to say that tenants will not be able to return to their homes - this is a question that we still cannot answer. The reason we cannot answer it is as has been set out in our contacts with residents in the offer document from the Council 4 years ago through to our most recent fact sheet. The works to both buildings are massively expensive - possibly the most expensive project to bring homes to the decent homes standard that have ever been undertaken. This is for reasons I am sure you are aware of - the buildings need a lot of complicated work and are grade 2 listed. We cannot take the 'easy' options in terms of refurbishment - we have to make good the existing structure, fabric and aesthetic of these buildings within the constraints which the listed status. To pay for the works and to build much-needed new homes on the estate we have to sell some of the homes where tenants live. We had hoped that we could cross-subsidise the cost of the works by selling homes we had built, but as you may know, we were not given planning permission to do the works set out in the offer document. 

We are hoping that there will be a mix of tenures available in Balfron Tower, but I am afraid that at the present moment I can only offer tenants the advice that it is possible but not probable that they will be able to come back to their homes in Balfron Tower.

Thumb 2010 12 balfron project
Balfron Project
Artwork
Simon Terrill, 2010
Thumb 2011 press cuttings

Colin's Pics, London: Balfron Tower
Balfron Tower and its bigger brother, Trellick Tower, are instantly recognisable by the signature "service towers" linked by walkways to the main blocks at every third floor. The walkways suggest that there's a scheme here to make individual flats span more than one floor in the main block, and presumably their front doors all share communal "streets in the sky". But why make the service tower separate? Why make the whole lot so high and thin that it looks as if it might fall over? Why those narrow little windows? Why make the place look so bleak and threatening? And why on earth are these two towers now listed buildings, with their flats selling from £250K to £500K?

I fear even the name "Balfron" sounds cold and alien. Is it an association with the Balrog, a nasty beast from Lord of the Rings? Or is planet Balfron home to an evil galactic empire? Perhaps it's an evil multinational corporation (or am I thinking of Grundon?) Then again, it could be some strange sub-nuclear particle like a boson or a gluon. The "Higgs Balfron..."

Human "circulation" here, even at "ground" level, is pushed up into the air on miserable concrete walkways. On the good side this allows for traffic and other services to run underneath, away from the pedestrians - but the walkways also have the unfortunate effect of making you feel like a marble, or a rat. These towers were originally completely open to the outside world, and completely unsupervised - so they were an absolute gift for muggers, rapists, gangs, drug abusers, vandals, vagrants...

And finally - the view. I stood in flat 123 and simply boggled. Everything you could want to see is beautifully laid out in front of you - it's not just a screwed-up view of parts of London, but the whole lot, laid out tidily in all its local clumpiness. A fantastic view of the city itself, with the Gherkin, Tower 42 and Heron Tower nicely spaced, and Lloyds and St Paul's too if you look carefully; then you turn to the left, where Guy's and the Shard rise up tidily just to the right of my old flat at 100 Westminster Bridge Road and just left of Big Ben and the Eye. Turn a little more, and all of Canary Wharf is there before you. And all so close you could almost touch it!  I'm not proud of my next thought, but I found myself wondering - how come such a fantastic view has been wasted on the working classes and the destitute...or to put it another way, why have these people not had their lives immeasurably improved by living with this fantastic view?

Thumb 2011 blitz
Blitz
Film
Elliott Lester, 2011

In Elliott Lester’s hackneyed crime thriller, Balfron Tower stars as the home of Blitz, a strutting psychotic serial killer who murders members of the police force. His flat is visited then raided by maverick Detective Sergeant Brant, played by a typically gruff and needlessly violent Jason Statham, and Sergeant Nash, his by-the-book sidekick played by Paddy Consindine. This is an invariably frightening and grimy London and, although flooded with light, Blitz’ scruffy flat appears a drab sepia hue behind worn net curtains.

Thumb 2011 estate regeneration and health in tower hamlets
Strategic Guidance: Estate Regeneration and Health in Tower Hamlets
Survey
Andy Pennington, Martin Birley, and Hilary Dreaves, 2011
Thumb 2011 03 brownfield estate phase ii planning application appendix 2
Page(s): 6

The Brownfield area includes around 800 homes. The freehold of the 669 of these (463 tenanted, 206 leasehold) are owned by Poplar HARCA. The remaining are generally independent freehold houses. 

Page(s): 8

The strength of the Brownfield community lies in its longevity and its adaptability. There are numerous individuals and families who have long local lineages, stretching back several generations with personal histories bonded with their sense of place. Equally, there is a generally accepting and embracing attitude to the changing nature of the community, which has included cultural and growingly, socio-economic shifts. There is a notable fear in some quarters around 'gentrification' and loss of identity through a large influx of new and different residents.

Thumb 2011 08 brownfield estate phase ii
Brownfield Estate Phase II
Planning
Leaside Regeneration, 2011
Thumb 2011 11 council minutes
Council Minutes
Legal
London Borough of Tower Hamlets, 2011
Page(s): 20-21

p.20-1
6.2 Question from Miss Claire Drake:-
Tenants and residents are delighted that the refurbishment works to bring Balfron Tower up to Decent Homes standards will start next year.

Poplar HARCA, our landlord, is verbally now refusing and not at all forthcoming with information on whether any tenants will be able to return to their homes when the works are completed. Balfron Tower was built in the late 1960s and originally all 146 homes were for rent to Council tenants. We are concerned that Poplar HARCA is planning to sell all the homes in this block on the open market rather than let them to social housing tenants. 

Will the Council help secure the right of return for tenants to their homes in Balfron Tower on completion of the Decent Homes work?

Response by Councillor Rabina Khan, Cabinet Member for Housing:-

Thank you Miss Drake for submitting this question. 

I understand your concerns and those of other residents in Balfron Tower about the lack of information and reassurances from Poplar HARCA about tenants’ right to return.

I can assure you that the Council are doing everything within our power to ensure that residents do have the right to return if they wish to exercise it.

During the Housing Choice consultation, many residents asked whether they would retain the same rights as Council tenants if they voted for the transfer and became tenants of an RSL.

The answer given by Poplar HARCA in their offer document was that with a couple of exceptions, “your rights with an RSL would be the same as with the Council.”

Crucially the offer document clearly mentions “The Right to be given information about the management of your home”, so this should encourage Poplar HARCA to answer queries about whether tenants can return to Balfron Tower after refurbishment.

The document from Poplar HARCA titled “Information for Residents living in Balfron and Carradale Towers” specifically spates: “If you have lived in your home for at least the last 12 months as your only or principal home then you will be entitled to a home loss payment when you move. This is currently £4,700. Only one payment is made per household. If you want to return to your home when the works are done then you will not be entitled to this payment.”

This document seems to indicate that residents are indeed entitled to return; under the circumstances indicated above.

However we need greater clarity on this and I am organising a meeting between tenants and Poplar HARCA to try to get that clarity.

Thumb 2011 12 foi legality of right to return to balfron tower
FOI: Legality of right of return to Balfron Tower
Legal
London Borough of Tower Hamlets, 2011
Thumb 2012 press cuttings

Building of the month, Twentieth Century Society, Laura Chan
Having lived in Balfron myself in 2010, I know all too well the downsides of living in a 1960s concrete high-rise: cockroaches live behind the concrete panels; the complex water system means you never quite know where the leak in the toilet is coming from; when both lifts break down there’s a long walk ahead of you. Maintenance issues aside, it was an absolute joy to live on the twenty-first floor of the magnificent Balfron.  From this height, London was in the cup of my hands, my eye-line at the same level as the horizon.

Thumb 2012 08 viability report
Viability Report
Legal
Poplar HARCA, 2012
Page(s): 2-6

Key risks: Refurbishment of Balfron Tower. 
The refurbishment of Carradale House (Carradale 88 units) and Balfron Tower (Balfron 146 units) is the most expensive of PHL’s decent homes programme at a total cost of £38m, including the cost of decanting residents. These buildings are grade II listed and of non-standard construction. Work has commenced at Carradale, with an expected completion date of August 2013, and some leaseholders have now decided to remain there. Some of the £6.6m costs will therefore now be recouped, but this carries its own risk if leaseholders have difficulty obtaining finance for the estimated £38.6k per flat. Balfron will become a leaseholder-only block. Most of the existing leaseholders have already sold their flats to PHL and few are now likely to remain. The cost of refurbishments for Balfron will be £90-100k per flat – considerably higher than for Carradale - and the business plan assumes that a joint venture partner will fund the refurbishment for an equity share in the sales. If a joint venture partner is not found, PHL will need to raise the £20m cost from its own resources and carry these costs until the flats are sold. The current plan includes the income from the sale of flats in Balfron Tower to the developer in 2014.

Page(s): 4

New units will be rented at either Affordable Rent (between 50% and 65% of local market rents) or at social rent for larger homes. A small number of shared ownership homes are now included in the development programme, but no property sales, apart from staircasing, are assumed after 2016. 

Thumb 2013 press cuttings

Social Cleansing in Tower Hamlets: Interview with Balfron Tower Evictee, Novaramedia
We get to talking about the changes the area has seen in the last few years. The flats in the Balfron Tower, once emptied but prior to their refurbishment, have been used to host “artists’ live/work studios” by Bow Arts, but are also being farmed out to ‘property guardians’, and, lately, being used as temporary accommodation for homeless from outside of Tower Hamlets. “But more than Bow Arts, in my block is guardians. And that’s like basically paying to squat. You get no rights, you get a work contract. And there’s absolutely loads of them. People hate them, but I think that they’re just in the same position as everyone else. Why would you want to live like that? And you can be out in 24 hours. There was a guy in my block who was a guardian, and someone complained he had his music too loud, and he got a 24 hour notice the next day. So living like that, they don’t care about the block, and I don’t blame them either, you’re not going to put down roots in the community.”

Thumb 2013 homes of tomorrow
Homes of Tomorrow
Audio
James Torrance and Charlie Warde, 2013
Thumb 2013 heritage at risk register 2013
Page(s): 138

SITE NAME: Balfron Tower E14
DESIGNATION: Conservation Area, 2 LBs
CONDITION: Very bad
VULNERABILITY: Medium
NEW ENTRY?: No
TREND: Improving

Thumb 2013 03 deloitte advert
Deloitte Advert
Legal
Poplar HARCA, 2013
Thumb 2014 balfron season
Balfron Season
Artwork
Bow Arts, Legacy List, Poplar HARCA, 2014
Thumb 2014 press cuttings

Oliver Wainwright, Wayne Hemingway's 'pop-up' plan sounds the death knell for the legendary Balfron Tower, The Guardian
Built as a beacon of social housing in 1968, this heroic 27-storey bookend to east London has been “decanted” of its social tenants over the last few years, to allow it to be scrubbed up and transformed into a silo of luxury flats – which will be marketed to the bankers of nearby Canary Wharf. The proceeds will go towards building low-rise social housing units nearby, in the shadow of the tower’s great heft.

The process began in 2008, and the interim period has been characterised by the usual medley of arts-led temporary uses, to distract from the sore of a vast concrete carcass lying empty. Well-meaning local arts organisation, the Bow Arts Trust, has supplied a ready flow of artists eager to fill the flats on short-term tenancies as they have been vacated, while property guardianship company, Dot Dot Dot, has filled a similar number of flats with its guardians. They pay for the pleasure of providing security, with none of the rights of being a tenant – but for the chance to live in a grade II-listed brutalist masterpiece, it’s a compromise many are willing to make.

 

Municipal Dreams, Balfron Tower, Poplar: imparting ‘a delicate sense of terror’
Balfron Tower is now one of the stately homes of England – a National Trust attraction no less.  Recently it’s hosted an arts season, a Shakespeare play, and it’s provided live-work accommodation for twenty-five artists since 2008.  And all that, to be honest, makes me sad because once Balfron was simply housing for the local people who needed it – although its size and style and big name architect did always get it special attention.

 

Municipal Dreams, Balfron Tower, Poplar: ‘they all said the flats were lovely’
It’s a cruel irony that Balfron Tower, conceived in the twentieth century as decent housing for ordinary people, will in the twenty-first become the preserve solely of the most wealthy.

In the meantime, as Balfron has emptied (one or two families are still holding out), its flats have been let out to property guardians and artists.  This brings in a little income, it provides a little security but it’s hard not to see all of them as an insidious gentrifying vanguard – embedded agents of regeneration, in the words of one critical participant.

Ian Martin: My ten favourite bits of London, Architects’ Journal
8. Balfron Tower
The scruffy version of Goldfinger’s Trellick Tower. I used to know someone who lived there and it was a pretty frightening place to visit. I’m sure it’s got a Trellick-level hipster quotient now. To be honest, it’s seeing it on the skyline I like most. Still so shocking and futuristic. Also, it was designed for and built by the GLC, in the days when more than half the architectural profession was in public service. What a monument to those days of a thriving public sector.

 

Sam Jacob, ‘Exploring a century of ideas about housing with the AA Night School’, Architects’ Journal
Winding through the low-rise streets of the Lansbury Estate, we come to the majestic slab of the Balfron Tower, Erno Goldfinger’s pixelated cliff-face that stands as an East-End mirror to his Trellick Tower in the west, together book-ending the city like stately concrete robots. It contains a stack of 136 flats and 10 maisonettes, these two-storey units articulated on the 16th floor as a horizontal ribbon, like a distinctive cummerbund around the building’s portly girth.

When the tower opened in 1967 Goldfinger himself moved in for two months, holding champagne-fuelled soirées at the top of the building, like Ballard’s doomed architect in High Rise. Built as social housing by the GLC, the democratic vision is now coming to an equally sticky end: the Balfron is soon to be scrubbed up by Studio Egret West and sold off as high-end private flats.

Thumb 2014 macbeth

The five hour show sees Balfron converted into the tower of Macbeth’s castle set in 1970s Eastern Europe in which an audience journey from the car park, where the witches are gathered around a fire, to the intimacy of flats, specially created bars and a banqueting hall, where they feast with the Macbeths before being sent back to sleep until dawn.

Thumb 2014 07 poplar harca sa
Page(s): 2

Examples of our success in maximising the return on our assets:
Converting the Grade 2 listed Balfron Tower from a social rented block to all private sales. The red book valuation of Balfron Tower using EUV–SH is negative (£4,030,000). By changing the tenure to private sale we anticipate that the project will generate a positive NPV and reduce financial risk for Poplar HARCA.

Thumb 2014 08 listing nomination
Page(s): 1

The Brownfield Estate - or specifically the parts of it known to their architect Ernö Goldfinger RA as Rowlett Street Housing Phases I, II, and III – is partially listed Grade 2, and it is here proposed that it be listed at Grade 2* in its entirety. It was built between 1965 and 1975 as social housing for the London County Council (succeeded by the Greater London Council after 1965), and is the most unaltered example remaining of Goldfinger's housing design.  Indeed, now that his earlier housing at Abbotts Langley has been largely demolished (2009), it represents one of only two public housing complexes of his that survive, the other being the Cheltenham (or Edenham) Estate in North Kensington around and including 31-storey Trellick Tower, which is now wholly Grade 2*-listed including specifically all the ancillary buildings around the Tower. But the earlier demolition of much of the parking structure with its roof top garden and of the Old People's Home, both central to the Edenham Estate, as well as the radical alteration of many of the terrace houses, has damaged its overall integrity as an urban or architectural complex. By contrast there has been no such demolition at the Brownfield Estate; furthermore, the 'forecourt' of 26-storey Balfron Tower, framed by the 2-storey Old People's Housing on one side (both Phase I) and by 11-storey Carradale House (Phase II) on the other, together with the Community building and shop block free-standing within it, retains its full integrity and constitutes one of the great urban spaces in London.

Indeed it is the most unaltered complex of Goldfinger buildings of all kinds. Of his two major non-housing projects, his recently part-listed work at the Elephant and Castle is much altered and part-demolished, and his Haggerston School has also been transformed by painting, various extensions, and the general replacement of original fenestration. As explained earlier, Balfron Tower currently faces comprehensive renovation by a private developer and it seems highly desirable that it should be listed at a grade at least as high as the Edenham Estate, i.e. at Grade 2*, rather than simply at Grade 2 as at present, to ensure the involvement of English Heritage and the careful attention to accuracy in all detail. The ancillary buildings and the spaces and hard landscaping need also to be included specifically in any listing (whereas they are not currently) since they play a critical role in the 'architectural drama' and the sculptural modelling of the surface of the ground; both contribute fundamentally to the architectural potency of the Estate. Arguably the social purpose of this housing, reflecting Goldfinger’s life-long closeness to Socialist groups, and the social elements in the design, should also be reflected in the listing, as it is in the list description of Lubektin and Tecton’s Finsbury Health Centre. Finally, the whole of the third Phase of Goldfinger's work on the Brownfield Estate, presently unlisted, needs to be brought into the listing, as will be argued below.

As a composition as a whole, Goldfinger’s Brownfield Estate reflects the Modern Movement ideal embodied in Le Corbusier’s slogan ‘Soleil, Espace, Verdure’ (Sun, Space, Greenery) – the belief that by building taller but without necessarily much increasing the density these conditions could be obtained for the mass of the population. Architecturally this policy would create dramatic spaces, wide views, ample sunlight, privacy, and wide areas of green space at ground level, which could in turn be exploited as a sculptural surface. In all probability, with the Edenham Estate, this is the most forceful and convincing demonstration and example of this design philosophy in the UK. It is for this reason that all the spaces, incidental details of hard landscaping, and minor buildings between the main buildings are of equal importance to the main buildings themselves, and should therefore be explicitly included in the listing description. A further characteristic of Goldfinger’s work is that his office was always small and that he designed everything himself – books of standard office details were built up over time, which assistants were expected to follow (or woe betide them). The elegance of details such as window frames, specially made to his designs, is critical to the overall effect.

Goldfinger always maintained that he designed his social housing ‘for himself’ – as he would for himself to live in. But by the time Balfron Tower was complete the climate of architectural opinion in Britain had moved sharply away from high-rise social housing of any form and it did not receive wide publicity except that resulting from Goldfinger’ stay there. Balfron reflected ideas that had been developed 35- 40 years earlier, designed by an architect who both understood their origins because he had been present at their birth, and had had time to become their master.

Page(s): 5-6

The early social history of Balfron Tower is noteworthy. Families living in the houses taken for the Blackwall Tunnel Approach roads and in unsuitable accommodation (often a consequence of the Blitz) were re-housed street by street. Of the 160 families housed, only two came from outside of Tower Hamlets, and former neighbours were rehoused in flats sharing a common access gallery, so as to maintain community spirit. Goldfinger received international publicity for staying with his wife in one of the flats in Balfron when it was first occupied. He did so for eight weeks, from February to April 1968, so as to document many aspects of life there, and assess them for himself; these included the adequacy of the lifts and the heating, whether the wind noise was excessive, and how well the windows worked. He was by this time 65 years old. His wife Ursula diligently compiled records of her own experience and of conversations with residents, about which an article was later published in the Twentieth Century Society Journal. Based on his experiences and residents’ feedback, Goldfinger wrote a report for the GLC. He also established a strong relationship with residents, who made him an honorary member of the Tenants’ Association. His request for permission to stay in Balfron was made privately, as can be seen from the surviving correspondence; it was the GLC that chose to give it publicity, under their Housing Committee Chairman Horace Cutler – who was a Conservative but nevertheless, it would appear, a keen supporter of Goldfinger. 
… 
Goldfinger always maintained that he designed his social housing ‘for himself’ – as he would for himself to live in. But by the time Balfron Tower was complete the climate of architectural opinion in Britain had moved sharply away from high-rise social housing of any form and it did not receive wide publicity except that resulting from Goldfinger’ stay there.

Thumb 2014 08 listing nomination residents experience supporting statement david roberts
Page(s): 1-3

Domestic experience
Common to residents is a feeling of intimidation upon first seeing Balfron, a building many would have never imagined inhabiting. This evokes negative associations, the “kind of thing that you think of with inner-city tower blocks, but actually I found it to be a very different experience when I moved in.” “When I knew I had to live here and I didn’t have any choice, I wanted to run away, I didn’t know anything about the tower. As soon as I moved in to the 21st floor I just total fell in love with it, everything about it.” Whilst its architecture is still too brutal in expression to some eyes, there is universal appreciation of the private and sociable ways of life it accommodates from within, “It’s a very trendy thing now, it’s in fashion – what I like about it is being inside it.”

Interior layouts
Residents value the organisation and character of interior layouts, “It’s a lovely size in terms of the flat and I love the design.” “I think the flats are wonderful places to live.” “I can’t think of anything I’d change in this flat.” The flats delighted first tenants as they were bigger and lighter than anything they were used to, “it was like a palace,” and are still recognised as superior today, “The flats are a great size, spacious - a luxury considering all the shoe boxes being built”, “It’s a better design than anything now,” offering “the space to reflect and create,” “to live in I don’t think you can get much better.”

Materials and detailing
Over decades of changing fashions, the interiors have been decorated to different tastes - overlayed brick cladding, thick pile carpets, pattenered wallpaper - but many of the original design features remain and have lasted well, such as the full height timber windows, light switches set into door frames and pre-cast flower boxes that have encouraged wildlife - herons, peregrine falcons and “squirrels [that] made it regularly to what I assume was the 23rd floor.” “The planters are very useful. I don’t think we would have thought about growing anything if they hadn’t been there. They also have a self-draining mechanism which makes it easy to water them. Since living here my flatmate and I have really got into tomato and marigold growing.” Residents admire the “tremendous force attached to its material and its detailing” and the privacy that comes from “very good soundproofing” and “low noise from neighbouring flats” which enable some to feel “enclosed and safe.” A mother described how it was a nice environment to raise her baby in Balfron “because the flats were quiet” and “really well designed.”

Quality of light and views
Most flats are double aspect except those on the south-face that are triple and two-person flats that feature a sash window in the kitchen which opens onto the walkway facing east. Though residents complain that the full height partially glazed screens can be draughty, they cherish the quantity and quality of light they provide. “Goldfinger designed with an awful lot of light. You live in the space in a different way. It affects your being. And that’s critical to your entire existence.” “I felt an incredible calm and feeling of wellbeing.” “In the morning you wake up to eastern light in your bedroom and in the afternoon you have the evening light streaming into your kitchen and lounge. You can also stand in the middle of the apartment and look out of the windows on each side and feel like you are on some kind of very long axis of London.”

No matter how high residents live, with different proportions of city and sky, the view has become vital to a sense of spaciousness and belonging. It enhances the space in flats, giving the feeling “like you have an outdoor space in your front room,” that “extend[s] outside the boundaries of our living room,” but also of the estate, “The view, not just outwards towards London skyline but inwards towards the Brownfield area. It’s a very communal view and often there are kids playing in the sunken playground. It’s been lovely these past few weeks of summer to come home and have a cup of the tea on the balcony and just listen to the sound of activity below.” 

The view is a source of personal contemplation and identity; “The fact that it’s in the sky is so important to it. I do feel a Londoner up here, ironically, you do see the cranes, you see the horizon as it changes, to see the Gherkin being built, to see the Shard, incredible.” “Especially at the night coz everything was lit up… To me it was just like fairy lights. It was like fairy land, truly.” One resident who has lived with view for twenty years held a small postcard print of German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich’s Wanderer above the Sea of Fog, “That’s me looking out of the window, that’s how I feel looking out of the window. That’s my image of my life in the flat overlooking London.” 

The view is also a backdrop and focus to the conduct of communal relationships, "You don’t really watch TV when you live somewhere with a nice view... every time you look out you can see different things”. “We felt very magnificent being up there. The view, we could see Battersea Power station on a good day, you see everything from there. I think for social housing tenants to lose the view is such a terrible theft of experience.”

Communal experience
The first to move in remember the sociability concomitant with existing communal ties, “I was here forty-odd years. I loved it. Everyone would help one another. You knew your next-door neighbour, you knew everyone. Even in the block, because as we moved the whole street moved into the block with us. So we still knew everyone and there was such a friendship and everything.” When asked about the communal experience today, residents acknowledge the consequences of long periods of poor social policy and unfailingly mention the now sealed-off laundry and amenity rooms, unreliable lifts and inaccessible garages. But the feeling of neighbourliness is not restricted to Balfron’s early ‘golden age’, the nine distinct corridors which lead to three levels of flats offer “more chance of meeting neighbours” and can be a “great place to meet the neighbours and chat.” The intimacy these spaces provide is unexpected, “it is the first time in my life I’ve got to know my neighbours,” the “friendliness isn’t something I’ve experienced in other parts of London,” “It was very very friendly which I was surprised at. The older people speaking in the lift to you. You know the young lads mucking around. It was really lovely.”

Collective memory
The longest-serving residents remember meeting Goldfinger at his parties, “He introduced himself and he asked our opinion of different things, what we thought of this and that. And he weighed it all in, so that when he built the other building, he done the adjustments, you know what I mean… He noticed it all and he righted it.” Similar anecdotes have survived generations of new residents through continued conversations between neighbours, that have meant residents are well informed and inspired by its history. This enduring shared legacy gives a uniqueness to everyday lived experience and continues to bring residents together who learn more about Balfron’s unique architecture and history and consequently feel pride in living here, “Trellick is more famous, but this place is more close to his heart in the fact that he lived here.” “I tapped into the Goldfinger thing, I painted my whole flat gold… I felt I could be really creative here... [it] opened up a new world to me.”

The longest-serving residents remember meeting Goldfinger at his parties, “He introduced himself and he asked our opinion of different things, what we thought of this and that. And he weighed it all in, so that when he built the other building, he done the adjustments, you know what I mean… He noticed it all and he righted it.” Similar anecdotes have survived generations of new residents through continued conversations between neighbours, that have meant residents are well informed and inspired by its history. This enduring shared legacy gives a uniqueness to everyday lived experience and continues to bring residents together who learn more about Balfron’s unique architecture and history and consequently feel pride in living here, “Trellick is more famous, but this place is more close to his heart in the fact that he lived here.”

Interior layouts
Residents value the organisation and character of interior layouts, “It’s a lovely size in terms of the flat and I love the design.” “I think the flats are wonderful places to live.” “I can’t think of anything I’d change in this flat.” The flats delighted first tenants as they were bigger and lighter than anything they were used to, “it was like a palace,” and are still recognised as superior today, “The flats are a great size, spacious - a luxury considering all the shoe boxes being built”, “It’s a better design than anything now,” offering “the space to reflect and create,” “to live in I don’t think you can get much better.”

Materials and detailing
Over decades of changing fashions, the interiors have been decorated to different tastes - overlayed brick cladding, thick pile carpets, pattenered wallpaper - but many of the original design features remain and have lasted well, such as the full height timber windows, light switches set into door frames and pre-cast flower boxes that have encouraged wildlife - herons, peregrine falcons and “squirrels [that] made it regularly to what I assume was the 23rd floor.” “The planters are very useful. I don’t think we would have thought about growing anything if they hadn’t been there. They also have a self-draining mechanism which makes it easy to water them. Since living here my flatmate and I have really got into tomato and marigold growing.” Residents admire the “tremendous force attached to its material and its detailing” and the privacy that comes from “very good soundproofing” and “low noise from neighbouring flats” which enable some to feel “enclosed and safe.” A mother described how it was a nice environment to raise her baby in Balfron “because the flats were quiet” and “really well designed.”

Quality of light and views
Most flats are double aspect except those on the south-face that are triple and two-person flats that feature a sash window in the kitchen which opens onto the walkway facing east. Though residents complain that the full height partially glazed screens can be draughty, they cherish the quantity and quality of light they provide. “Goldfinger designed with an awful lot of light. You live in the space in a different way. It affects your being. And that’s critical to your entire existence.” “I felt an incredible calm and feeling of wellbeing.” “In the morning you wake up to eastern light in your bedroom and in the afternoon you have the evening light streaming into your kitchen and lounge. You can also stand in the middle of the apartment and look out of the windows on each side and feel like you are on some kind of very long axis of London.”

No matter how high residents live, with different proportions of city and sky, the view has become vital to a sense of spaciousness and belonging. It enhances the space in flats, giving the feeling “like you have an outdoor space in your front room,” that “extend[s] outside the boundaries of our living room,” but also of the estate, “The view, not just outwards towards London skyline but inwards towards the Brownfield area. It’s a very communal view and often there are kids playing in the sunken playground. It’s been lovely these past few weeks of summer to come home and have a cup of the tea on the balcony and just listen to the sound of activity below.” 

The view is a source of personal contemplation and identity; “The fact that it’s in the sky is so important to it. I do feel a Londoner up here, ironically, you do see the cranes, you see the horizon as it changes, to see the Gherkin being built, to see the Shard, incredible.” “Especially at the night coz everything was lit up… To me it was just like fairy lights. It was like fairy land, truly.” One resident who has lived with view for twenty years held a small postcard print of German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich’s Wanderer above the Sea of Fog, “That’s me looking out of the window, that’s how I feel looking out of the window. That’s my image of my life in the flat overlooking London.” 

The view is also a backdrop and focus to the conduct of communal relationships, "You don’t really watch TV when you live somewhere with a nice view... every time you look out you can see different things”. “We felt very magnificent being up there. The view, we could see Battersea Power station on a good day, you see everything from there. I think for social housing tenants to lose the view is such a terrible theft of experience.”

Communal experience
The first to move in remember the sociability concomitant with existing communal ties, “I was here forty-odd years. I loved it. Everyone would help one another. You knew your next-door neighbour, you knew everyone. Even in the block, because as we moved the whole street moved into the block with us. So we still knew everyone and there was such a friendship and everything.” When asked about the communal experience today, residents acknowledge the consequences of long periods of poor social policy and unfailingly mention the now sealed-off laundry and amenity rooms, unreliable lifts and inaccessible garages. But the feeling of neighbourliness is not restricted to Balfron’s early ‘golden age’, the nine distinct corridors which lead to three levels of flats offer “more chance of meeting neighbours” and can be a “great place to meet the neighbours and chat.” The intimacy these spaces provide is unexpected, “it is the first time in my life I’ve got to know my neighbours,” the “friendliness isn’t something I’ve experienced in other parts of London,” “It was very very friendly which I was surprised at. The older people speaking in the lift to you. You know the young lads mucking around. It was really lovely.”

Collective memory
The longest-serving residents remember meeting Goldfinger at his parties, “He introduced himself and he asked our opinion of different things, what we thought of this and that. And he weighed it all in, so that when he built the other building, he done the adjustments, you know what I mean… He noticed it all and he righted it.” Similar anecdotes have survived generations of new residents through continued conversations between neighbours, that have meant residents are well informed and inspired by its history. This enduring shared legacy gives a uniqueness to everyday lived experience and continues to bring residents together who learn more about Balfron’s unique architecture and history and consequently feel pride in living here, “Trellick is more famous, but this place is more close to his heart in the fact that he lived here.” “I tapped into the Goldfinger thing, I painted my whole flat gold… I felt I could be really creative here... [it] opened up a new world to me.”

Thumb 2014 08 listing nomination owen hatherley supporting statement owen hatherley
Page(s): 1

Goldfinger’s structures on the Brownfield Estate are designed with an attention to detail and quality of materials unusual for the 60s or any other decade. The low-rise stockbrick blocks form a series of streets around three larger-scale structures; the tower, with its proudly modelled lift tower serving the function once taken up by church and town hall spires; Carradale House, its long walkways connecting cubic mid-rise blocks; and Glenkerry House, perhaps weirdest of all, a tall block culminating in another curved service-tower-cum-spire. 

The Brownfield Estate as a whole is still remarkable as an example of a time when public housing could be valued as much, or rather more, than any other form of building – as landmarks that were meant to be seen at a distance, declaring the local council's pride at housing its inhabitants. These pieces of inner city architectural sculpture are fragments of a better, more egalitarian and more fearless kind of city than the ones we actually live in.

The flats are large and simple, the bared concrete is beautiful, detailed with a craftsman’s obsessiveness, the communal areas largely make sense, and the buildings have an impressive sense of order and controlled drama.

The listing of buildings should always be careful not to be just a matter of listing a few lone 'icons' to be preserved as toys, and be careful not to list buildings as shells that can be filled with anything, particularly when their purpose is still very much needed. On this basis I support the listing of the Brownfield Estate as a whole as a coherent, well made and complete example of public housing well above the current standard of private housing - and which must stay as public housing, in an area that desperately needs it. On both architectural and social grounds, this is a place which needs preserving.

Goldfinger’s structures on the Brownfield Estate are designed with an attention to detail and quality of materials unusual for the 60s or any other decade. The low-rise stockbrick blocks form a series of streets around three larger-scale structures; the tower, with its proudly modelled lift tower serving the function once taken up by church and town hall spires; Carradale House, its long walkways connecting cubic mid-rise blocks; and Glenkerry House, perhaps weirdest of all, a tall block culminating in another curved service-tower-cum-spire. 

The Brownfield Estate as a whole is still remarkable as an example of a time when public housing could be valued as much, or rather more, than any other form of building – as landmarks that were meant to be seen at a distance, declaring the local council's pride at housing its inhabitants. These pieces of inner city architectural sculpture are fragments of a better, more egalitarian and more fearless kind of city than the ones we actually live in.

The flats are large and simple, the bared concrete is beautiful, detailed with a craftsman’s obsessiveness, the communal areas largely make sense, and the buildings have an impressive sense of order and controlled drama.

The listing of buildings should always be careful not to be just a matter of listing a few lone 'icons' to be preserved as toys, and be careful not to list buildings as shells that can be filled with anything, particularly when their purpose is still very much needed. On this basis I support the listing of the Brownfield Estate as a whole as a coherent, well made and complete example of public housing well above the current standard of private housing - and which must stay as public housing, in an area that desperately needs it. On both architectural and social grounds, this is a place which needs preserving.

1. TENURE ACROSS BROWNFIELD ESTATE
a) Can you provide a breakdown of tenure (social rented / affordable rented / private rented / shared ownership / owner occupiers / shorthold tenancies / property guardians / Bow Arts Trust’s LiveWork Scheme) in each block of the Brownfield Estate before the stock transfer vote?
b) Can you provide a breakdown of tenure in each block now, including new infill blocks?
c) Can you provide an estimated breakdown of tenure in each block after all regeneration works have been completed?
d) Are figures available documenting tenure changes in each block on an annual basis?

I’m afraid we don’t have the capacity to go into that kind of detail, including researching pre-ballot council data, non-Poplar HARCA stock and private ownership / rental data. I can however confirm: 

  • The infill blocks (currently being completed) will provide 25 homes (accom for 97 people) for social rent
  • New build in Ida & Follett Street has provided 32 new family sized homes (3-7 bed) all for social rent
  • Panoramic building provided 112 homes, 90 for private sale and 22 family sized for shared ownership
  • The final decision has not yet been made regarding final tenure mix at Balfron Tower
  • The RTB has obviously become more popular since the raising of the cap – which has led to a rise in the number of applications across our stock

2. SOCIAL RENTED TENANTS IN BALFRON TOWER
c) Can you provide a list showing the approximate location of where households have been relocated to i.e. listed by block or ward or postcode (Carradale House / other blocks in the Brownfield Estate / Poplar / Tower Hamlets / beyond the local authority)?

Of the 102 social tenancies in Balfron Tower, 71 of the households moved to other Poplar HARCA homes locally within E14. In fact 10 moved just next door to Carradale House. 18 remained locally within Tower Hamlets having successfully bid for social tenancies in E1, E2 and E3 which are only a ten minute bus ride away. Many of the social tenants living in Balfron Tower were families living in overcrowded conditions and this was an opportunity to move to more suitable homes – many of which were new build social rent homes developed by us.

1. Can you update me on the decision whether social rented tenants will have a right of return to Balfron Tower? 

There is still no final decision on this. The expectation remains that it is possible but not probable. 

2. SOCIAL RENTED TENANTS IN BALFRON TOWER
c) Can you provide a list showing the approximate location of where households have been relocated to i.e. listed by block or ward or postcode (Carradale House / other blocks in the Brownfield Estate / Poplar / Tower Hamlets / beyond the local authority)?

Of the 102 social tenancies in Balfron Tower, 71 of the households moved to other Poplar HARCA homes locally within E14. In fact 10 moved just next door to Carradale House. 18 remained locally within Tower Hamlets having successfully bid for social tenancies in E1, E2 and E3 which are only a ten minute bus ride away. Many of the social tenants living in Balfron Tower were families living in overcrowded conditions and this was an opportunity to move to more suitable homes – many of which were new build social rent homes developed by us. 
 
3. LEASEHOLDERS IN BALFRON TOWER
b) Can you provide a list showing the approximate location of where households have been relocated to i.e. listed by block or ward or postcode (Carradale House / other blocks in the Brownfield Estate / Poplar / Tower Hamlets / beyond the local authority)?

Leaseholders selling their homes back to Poplar HARCA have no duty to inform us where they are moving to. Equally, a number are absent leaseholders who do not live in the flat. 

1. TENURE ACROSS BROWNFIELD ESTATE
a) Can you provide a breakdown of tenure (social rented / affordable rented / private rented / shared ownership / owner occupiers / shorthold tenancies / property guardians / Bow Arts Trust’s LiveWork Scheme) in each block of the Brownfield Estate before the stock transfer vote?
b) Can you provide a breakdown of tenure in each block now, including new infill blocks?
c) Can you provide an estimated breakdown of tenure in each block after all regeneration works have been completed?
d) Are figures available documenting tenure changes in each block on an annual basis?

I’m afraid we don’t have the capacity to go into that kind of detail, including researching pre-ballot council data, non-Poplar HARCA stock and private ownership / rental data.

Thumb 2014 10 ph annual report
Page(s): 10

Converting the Grade 2 listed Balfron Tower from a social rented block to all private sales. The red book valuation of Balfron Tower using EUV–SH is negative (£4,030,000). By changing the tenure to private sale we anticipate that the project will generate a positive NPV and reduce financial risk for Poplar HARCA. 

Thumb 2014 10 foi number of leaseholders and secure tenants in balfron tower
Page(s): 1

Request 
I would like to know the number of leasehold units, and the number of units housing secure tenants in the Balfron Tower, during November 2007, prior to its transfer to Poplar HARCA and subsequent decanting. 

Response 
On the day before the transfer on 29 November 2007 there were the following numbers of leaseholders, tenants and void properties in the building (which comprises of 146 separate properties): 
1. Leaseholders–36 
2. Secure tenants–99 
3. Void properties–11 

Request 
I would like to know the number of leasehold units, and the number of units housing secure tenants in the Balfron Tower, during November 2007, prior to its transfer to Poplar HARCA and subsequent decanting. 

Response 
On the day before the transfer on 29 November 2007 there were the following numbers of leaseholders, tenants and void properties in the building (which comprises of 146 separate properties): 
1. Leaseholders–36 
2. Secure tenants–99 
3. Void properties–11 

Thumb balfron guide web
Flat 130, Balfron Tower
Book, Artwork
Joseph Watson, National Trust, 2014
Page(s): 2-18

And yet Balfron Tower is a firm part of the nation’s heritage. Completed in 1968, its place in the architectural pantheon was established as early as 1996, with a Grade II listing from English Heritage. The Tower also stands as testament to a particular historical moment; when a vision of a utopian post-war Britain, coincided with an architectural movement, Brutalism, and a material, concrete, that indelibly changed the landscape of our urban environment. Love it or loathe it, this was intended to be a heroic architecture that offered the best of design to the masses, freed people from condemned slum housing, and elevated them – literally – to a better life. Balfron Tower is the welfare state in concrete. It deserves, nay demands, our attention. 
...
The word iconic is over-used, but history has already judged Balfron Tower an icon, for good or ill, of a moment in time marked by utopian visions and their dystopian outcomes. Five decades later, though many Brutalist blocks have already fallen to the wrecking ball of progress, it is now time to cherish and care for these buildings anew, in the way that Goldfinger and his fellow visionaries first envisaged. 
...
While a number of his buildings have been demolished, Ernö’s gloomy prediction on his eightieth birthday did not come to pass at Poplar. A renewed interest in his architecture by heritage bodies, architects, artists and designers have ensured, if not quite a glorious legacy, distinguished endurance at least. Balfron Tower was Grade II listed in 1996, and, with its surrounds, was designated a Conservation Area two years later. Perhaps a building ahead of its time had finally caught up with itself. 
...
As the architect Kate Macintosh points out, large buildings show us where power lies. From the church to the aristocracy to business today, for a brief moment it was social housing that ‘deserved’ the biggest, most striking architecture. It might be ironic, or perhaps entirely appropriate, that Balfron Tower now affords some of the best views of Canary Wharf. Either way, it is to our great privilege that such a time existed, and that it afforded this maverick Hungarian émigré the chance to make his radical mark on the East London skyline.

Thumb 2014 10 the ecstasy of space

To approach the main entrance from the west along the very direct path is to experience an exciting spatial sensation as one moves across the highly modelled 'green' ground plane, first alongside a ravine (the sunken service road), then across a bridge, past a ‘gatehouse’, and finally across what feels like a drawbridge under surveillance from arrays of gun-slots above, before entering the 'castle' - or tower - itself. The exposed aggregate surface of most external walls, though softened by radius corners, adds to the 'castle-like air’. From these, project gargoyles. The lift lobby is unexpectedly tall - like all those above, it is a storey-and-a-half high - and well appointed: it is lined with green marble, mostly still intact, and would have been well-lit originally when the entrance doors were plate glass - long since replaced with a heavy timber screen and door controlled by entry phone. The lift arrives promptly enough and one emerges into an upper lift lobby, equally lofty but this time with no marble and lit by an array of slit windows (the 'gun slots') in two staggered rows – vertically pivoted so that they can be opened for cleaning from inside (but evidently never are) without allowing an opening wide enough to fall out. From there another bridge leads across the vertiginous gulf between the circulation tower and the main block, with deep windows on either side, and through two pairs of swing doors (many of the original with moulded timber door handles survive), and into the access gallery.

Scarcely credible, these galleries were originally open, albeit with parapets about 1750mm high, so the quarry-tiled floor undulates slightly to create falls for drainage. Natural light streams in, lighting up the brightly-coloured tiles covering the walls opposite, punctuated by doors to three flats per structural bay, and by the kitchen windows of the two-person flats on the same level. These walls advance and recede, avoiding the oppressiveness of a corridor – very different from the blank and flat walls of the ‘streets in the air’ at Park Hill in Sheffield. Once inside the flat, the breathtaking panorama of London unfolds before you.

This was the spatial sequence I experienced every day for a week. Once inside the flat - in my case on the 24th floor - the sky dominates the view in both directions. This is as expected by the Modern Movement, but perhaps not the noise: the hope was that by building tall away from roads the noise of traffic would be lost. But the traffic approaching the Blackwall tunnel towards the south crossed by that on the East India Dock Road, right next to Balfron, is more than enough to fill the air with sound at the highest level. From the generous balcony this is noticeable and would perhaps be so within the fat with the windows open, but with them closed in October it was acceptable. Visually the sense of spatial intoxication was for me real and was heightened by the feeling that one was in touch with that space. That one could open the windows and go out onto the balcony, where pigeons could land on the planters and even squirrels run along them, and also by the shallow depth of the wide-frontage flats bringing intense light from both sides right into the centre. The drama of the changing sky was a constant source of wonder. Storms would move across and the buildings of the City visible to the west were illuminated pink by the rising sun in the morning and silhouetted dark against a pink sky in the evening.

Balfron Tower, long referred to as the 'lesser known', 'smaller' or 'earlier' version of Goldfinger's similar Trellick Tower, has this year been getting all the publicity.  The most obvious reason is that the tower (27 storeys with 146 dwellings completed in 1968, the first phase of Goldfinger’s work on the LCC's Brownfield Estate in Poplar, East London is being emptied by its housing association owners Poplar HARCA for sale to private developers.  While this lengthy process is going on, 40 vacated flats have been made available to the Bow Arts Trust for letting on short tenure to artists as live-work units (as well as numbers of flats to other organisations), with the result that there has been burgeoning artistic activity there over the last three years. It culminated this year in the so-called Balfron Season of events, exhibitions, happenings - even overnight performances of Macbeth -, and the involvement of the British Council, the Royal College of Art, and the National Trust.  The Trust, already owners of Goldfinger's former house in Willow Road, Hampstead, were invited to open a 'pop up property’ in the flat on the top floor at the south end of the block that Erno Goldfinger with his wife Ursula famously occupied for two months in 1968 to monitor his own work for real. Indicative though all this is of interest in Goldfinger's work, it leaves unanswered some of the fundamental questions about Balfron.

In the only contemporary publication of it, in Architecture d'Aujourd'hui (Feb-March 1967), notes in its short text that the architects ‘adopted a policy of building tall (the principal building has 27 storeys) in order to leave a large part of the site free’. This must have been written by Goldfinger himself since, as the London correspondent for that magazine, he was responsible for sending all the material published about projects in Britain. The idea that space, and especially green space, was a fundamental benefit as a setting for human habitation was fundamental to the Modern Movement in architecture. It reflected the view that 'space' was a critical element in architecture and urbanism – ‘Light, Space, Greenery’ was the slogan Le Corbusier attached to his Radiant City. But it is an ideal that has been questioned, or more exactly, rejected for at least the last fifty years.

1 c) Can you provide an estimated breakdown of tenure in each block after all regeneration works have been completed?

The final decision has not yet been made regarding final tenure mix at Balfron Tower

2 a) Do social rented tenants of Balfron Tower have a right to return?
        
This will be discussed with our joint venture partners. Is possible, but not probable, that some may return

2. What proportion of additional residential dwellings built as part of the regeneration works on the Brownfield Estate are designated social rent?

Sorry, thought I'd sent these... Linked with Poplar HARCA - Infill blocks (currently being completed) will provide 25 homes (accom for 97 people) for social rent; new build in Ida & Follett Street has provided 32 new family sized houses and flats (3-7 bed) all for social rent; Panoramic building provided 112 homes, 90 for private sale and 22 family sized for shared ownership. There have been other new builds locally, not connected with us - I'm unaware of their tenure. I'm not sure if your research is interested in size of homes, but have included them above as this is a constant focus for our residents that I expect you have encountered. 

3. Will there be a net gain or loss of social rented accommodation within the Brownfield Estate following regeneration works? 

See above - we've increased the number of social rented homes in Brownfield and across Poplar.

Thumb e0c58cd0 5afd 4c3f b770 a45c128c4032

Londonewcastle goes for gold in east London, Hannah Brenton
“We feel it’s a piece of modern brutalism that will hopefully be referred back to as to how an iconic building like this, which is dilapidated and deteriorating quite badly, should be moved forward into the future,” 

Londonewcastle chief operating officer Robert Soning said in an exclusive interview with Property Week.

“We’re massive fans of Goldfinger — we love what he tried to achieve, which are effectively communities in the sky. We felt that from an architectural point of view that era [the 1960s] was a concrete disaster — but out of this grew some real gems.”

Benjamin Mortimer, How the Balfron Tower tenants were ‘decanted’ and lost their homes, East End Review

Last month’s announcement that the Grade II-listed Balfron Tower in Poplar will no longer contain any social housing but will instead be sold as luxury flats put an end to speculation about its future that has been going on since 2010. But questions remain about its recent past, particularly around how more than 120 family-sized East London flats have passed from the social to the private sector without anyone being evicted.

For the better part of five years, Poplar HARCA, the housing association which owns the block, has maintained that the people who used to live there – social tenants who were “decanted” to allow refurbishment work to be carried out – might in theory be permitted to move back in. It stated several times that they “possibly but not probably” had a “right of return”.

This “right” wasn’t about law but about money: whether Poplar HARCA could afford to have any social housing in Balfron Tower. Until recently it was still unsure. In an interview conducted in January, Paul Augarde, head of Creativity and Innovation at Poplar HARCA, insisted he still did not know whether or not the budget for the Balfron project would have space for some social tenants to move back in. “It’s never great,” he said of what was then the possible total sale. “You don’t want to sell stuff.”

In 2006, residents were sent a booklet about transferring to Poplar HARCA, two pages of which were of special relevance to Balfron and Carradale. Poplar HARCA would be contractually obliged to refurbish substantially both blocks, and two options for their tenants were proposed: they could remain living in their flats while the refurbishment was carried out, or they could move, as priority tenants, into new homes Poplar HARCA would build elsewhere on the Brownfield Estate. If they took the second option, their current flat would be sold privately to help pay for the project.

Poplar HARCA anticipated around 130 tenants from across both blocks would choose to leave in this first instance. Balfron had suffered from an historic lack of maintenance and anti-social behaviour was a serious problem. Many tenants took Poplar HARCA up on its offer; but many others opted to stay.

In other words, the sale of some flats in Balfron was always on the cards, but so was the prospect of social tenants continuing to live there indefinitely. This initial proposal, on which tenants voted, made no mention of a “decant”, permanent or temporary, nor indeed of any need to leave Balfron at all.

Poplar HARCA blames two things: the 2008 financial crisis and the refusal of planning permission for a “linked” proposal for several separate developments it submitted to Tower Hamlets Council. Approval of this proposal would have given it a solid financial resource and lowered its reliance on the sale of unwanted Balfron and Carradale flats to fund the refurbishment and other projects. Forced to apply for new developments site by site, and sell homes at post-crash prices, these flats became one of its few solid sources of money.

Since these events occurred, tenants have been “decanted” and the uncertainty of their “possible but not probable” return promulgated. If – from 2008 onwards – Poplar HARCA strongly suspected it would need to sell Balfron, why didn’t it just make a clean breast of it?

Paul Augarde argues it was simply communicating the truth of the situation, which was that Poplar HARCA did not know what was going to happen. “We were very straight,” he says. “If we’d given an absolute answer” to residents’ questions on returning, he says, “it would have been no. It would have been easier to say no.”

Poplar HARCA did not attribute the need to remove tenants in 2010 to the need to sell Balfron, instead citing a report which detailed safety risks to their remaining while work was carried out. It decided on this basis to “decant” all tenants. This makes sense – quite how people could remain in flats while their bathrooms and kitchens were renovated has never entirely been made clear. But the “decant” also meant that the sale of homes would from then on always be connected to the prospect of tenants moving back in, not to their being moved out. The question of the sale of homes would be framed around a “right of return”, not a “right to stay”.

This was the manner in which the issue was presented to tenants, who were briefed by Poplar HARCA at the end of September 2010 on the need to leave their homes. The briefing could have been clearer: “Up until reading about the process of decanting I thought we were going to temporary housing and then return,” says Michael Newman, a tenant of Balfron for many years. Printed communications, however, boded ill: “The document that I looked at was on the process of decanting, and it made no statement that I could find on returning.”

The omission caused such alarm that by October it was the subject of an FAQ on a fact-sheet distributed by Poplar HARCA. “Can I move back in when the works are complete?” was “one of the questions we just don’t know the answer to yet”, the sheet stated, before raising the prospect of selling more Balfron flats than originally intended: “We have had to re-think how we pay for the works.”

In November 2010, Newman wrote an eloquent and moving letter to Andrea Baker, Director of Housing at Poplar HARCA, asking if there had been a misunderstanding: “[I] see my flat, my home, as a safe haven with memories of my brothers, and an inspirational, poetic view that has helped me through very difficult times,” he wrote. “I have lived for the past few weeks with the worry of losing my home.

“I am writing to ask you to reassure me about my home and our community.” Baker wrote back the very next day. But she was unable to offer anything further by way of reassurance than the “possibly but not probably have a right of return” formulation.

From 2010, Poplar HARCA worked with residents on relocating. Building work was (and still is) yet to start. As years went by, the realistic option for waiting residents was to cease to pursue even a moral “right of return”.

“I have been treated very well by HARCA in the decant and do feel gratitude for how they supported the move,” says Michael Newman now. He has resettled in Carradale House. “I am now happy where I live. I can see my old flat from the balcony of my new one, and I am starting a new life.”

So is Balfron Tower. Now that all tenants have been re-housed, physically and psychologically, Poplar HARCA has finally applied for planning permission for the refurbishment and has formed a partnership with developer London Newcastle to sell the flats.

What comes of all this? It’s astonishing that a social landlord started with the plan of refurbishing a listed building for its social tenants and found that it was able to do so only if it sold the building into private hands – while still being contractually obliged to carry out the work. Other housing associations may well be put off by this from pursuing such ambitious projects, and it is a shame, to say the very least, that Poplar HARCA, for all its achievements, could not set them a better example.

Thumb 2015 mayoral statement
Statement on Balfron Tower
Legal
Mayor Lutfur Rahman, 2015
Thumb 2015 04 craig atkinson balfron tower
Balfron Tower
Book, Artwork
Craig Atkinson, 2015
Thumb 2015 10 balfron tower petition
Stop Privatisation and Social Cleansing at Balfron Tower, change.org
Legal
Balfron Social, Tower Hamlets Renters, Action East End and Vanessa Crawford, 2015
Thumb 2015 10 balfron tower list entry

SUMMARY OF THE BUILDING: High-rise block of flats and maisonettes, 1965-7 by Ernö Goldfinger, built as phase 1 of the London County Council (later Greater London Council -GLC) Brownfield Estate.
Mixed development public housing scheme, approved for development by the LCC in 1959 and designed by Ernö Goldfinger from 1963. Built in three phases: Balfron Tower, old people’s housing and shop in St Leonard’s Road, 1965-7; Carradale House, 1967-8; Glenkerry House (1972-5), 2-24, 26-46 and 48-94 Burcham Street and Burcham Street Centre, 1972 onwards. The community centre/nursery in St Leonard’s Road was designed as part of phase 2 and built in phase 3.

Reasons for Designation Balfron Tower, built 1965-7, by the eminent modernist architect Ernö Goldfinger is listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons: 

  • Authorship: designed and planned by Ernö Goldfinger, a major exponent of the European Modern Movement in Britain and an architect of international standing; 
  • Architectural interest: strikingly sculptural, it is the precursor and model for Goldfinger’s modernist high-rise towers, and a manifestation of the architect’s rigorous approach to design and of his socialist architectural principles; 
  • Materials and construction: concrete aggregate, exceptionally fine bush-hammered concrete finishes and precise joinery, establishing a consistency in planning, palette of materials and aesthetic applied across the estate; 
  • Planning interest: Corbusian-inspired interlocking arrangement of flats and maisonettes, three per bay, served by enclosed access galleries at every third floor, linked to a separate service tower which included community facilities, sports and hobby rooms; 
  • Degree of survival: a little-altered building that demonstrates le Corbusier's views on spatial planning, where Balfron Tower has a particularly strong planning, visual and aesthetic relationship with Carradale House and Glenkerry House; 
  • Social and historic interest: phase one of an LCC mixed development, principally of high rise blocks, designed to re-house a local community within a carefully planned integrated landscape; 
  • Group value: Balfron Tower has strong group value with the low-rise and high-rise elements of the estate, most notably with Carradale House, and the space within which it stands.

HISTORY: The Brownfield estate, or Rowlett Street estate as it was known at the time, was developed by the London County Council (LCC) who, short of in-house capacity, approached the architect Ernö Goldfinger. 

In 1951 Poplar Borough Council approved a programme to build 300 dwellings on the Tetley Street site to the south and west of Rowlett Street. Before the first block (Langdon House) was completed, the LCC assumed responsibility for developing the area as an eastern extension to the Lansbury estate and part of the wider Stepney and Poplar Reconstruction Area and in May 1955 approved designs by the Architect’s Department for a low-rise development of 354 dwellings at a density of 142 persons to the acre (ppa). It consisted of a mixture of 2-storey terraces, 4-storey maisonette blocks and 2/3-storey blocks of flats. Construction commenced in early 1957 and was substantially complete by 1961. The site was named the Brownfield Estate in July 1958 after an existing road, itself named after a local doctor. 

EVOLUTION OF THE SCHEME: Rowlett Street Stage I The LCC in May 1959 approved an estimate of £50,400 for the acquisition, clearance and partial redevelopment of the first of three extensions to the Brownfield Estate, prompted by clearance and the construction of the Blackwall Tunnel approach; the site was developed in stages to facilitate site acquisition and the rehousing of residents. The density was to be increased from 170ppa to compensate for land take for the Blackwall Tunnel. 
Having approached Goldfinger in October 1962, the following month the LCC produced a sketch layout of three 15-storey point blocks as an indication of the type of scheme they anticipated, including the potential for some low buildings for the elderly. When Goldfinger’s scheme was presented to the LCC in June 1963 the LCC architect described Balfron Tower as a ‘landmark’ building and commented that ‘a high sense of visual drama would be achieved while emerging from the Blackwall Tunnel’. Detailed Stage I proposals received approval in February 1964; the contract started on site in June 1965 and was completed in October 1967, with a topping out ceremony on Balfron Tower on 22 February 1968. 
Rowlett Street Stage II Goldfinger was briefed about a future site extension as early as February 1963 and at the outset prepared sketches for the complete site [i.e. phases 1 and 2]. Thus the first two phases were planned as a whole, to be executed in two halves, and densities and dwelling types were calculated in aggregate. Although delay had been anticipated, phase 2 was however held back by the LCC’s decision to rehouse in Balfron Tower residents who had been displaced by the site clearance. The LCC authorised the acquisition of the Stage II site in November 1964; Goldfinger received a formal commission in December 1965, and in July 1967 his proposals for Carradale House were accepted. 
Rowlett Street Stage III The LCC reported in December 1966 that the land south of Burcham Street would be redeveloped to provide 129 new dwellings. At 2.89 acres gross, stage III was the largest site but was developed less intensively than the preceding phases (174 ppa compared with 216 for phase 1 and 205 for phase 2). Additionally it was subject to economies imposed by the new Housing Cost Yardstick (government policy introduced to control public sector housing costs). A drawing from December 1969 (RSHIII/109) shows the rudimentary Glenkerry House, three low-rise blocks, community building and car park block to the west in relation to the existing Balfron Tower and Carradale House. Perspective drawings of early 1970 depict Glenkerry House and the low rise blocks fronting Burcham Street. Glenkerry House was built between 1972 and 1975, and the project was complete or nearing completion by 1976. The relatively long development period was characteristic of the 1970s. 
Ernö Goldfinger A Hungarian émigré, born in Budapest, Ernö Goldfinger (1902-1987) moved to Paris in 1920 and to London in 1934. He stands out as one of the only architects trained under Auguste Perret at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris in the 1920s, and who was closely involved in the early years of the Modern Movement on the Continent, to find acceptance in Britain. He is held in high regard as a major exponent of these ideas in England in the post-war period. Firmly rooted in Perret's Structural-Rationalism, he was strongly influenced by Le Corbusier's social idealist views and architecture, embodied in the slogan ‘Soleil, Espace, Verdure’ (sun, space, greenery). The Brownfield estate epitomises these ideas and the Balfron Tower in particular is one of the closest parallels to European modernism to be built in this country. Having first produced designs for housing in 1929 in Algiers, Goldfinger went on to develop ideas for high-rise housing, culminating at that time in a scheme for a 24-storey communal housing scheme, again unbuilt, but exhibited at the CIAM (Les Congrès Internationaux d'Architecture Moderne) conference in Athens in 1933. 
In designs for mixed development housing schemes at Abbotts Langley, Herts of 1956-8, comprising a thirteen-storey slab (unbuilt) and three and four-storey blocks and terraces of maisonettes and flats, approached by detached stair towers, Goldfinger explored the Corbusian inspired ‘rue interieure’ formula for tall blocks of flats and maisonettes served by an internal gallery. His solution created an interlocking section whereby three floors of flats per bay were served by an enclosed gallery, thus providing greater opportunity for social interaction. These principles were fundamental to his later schemes, influencing both the Brownfield estate and the slightly later Cheltenham estate, LB Kensington and Chelsea (Trellick Tower, 1968-72, Grade II*, low rise housing, Cheltenham estate, 1969-73, Grade II). 

BALFRON TOWER: Balfron Tower is the earliest component of the two large blocks of flats and maisonettes that were arguably the most important commissions of his career and has a distinctive profile that sets it apart from other tall blocks. More importantly, it proved that such blocks could be well planned and beautifully finished, revealing Goldfinger as a master in the production of finely textured and long-lasting concrete masses. 
Balfron Tower was designed as a social entity to re-house a community, according with Goldfinger's socialist thinking. Families were re-housed street by street, former neighbours sharing common access galleries. Access to enclosed galleries was secure, stair wells were well lit. As well as services and the boiler the circulation tower included a launderette, a table tennis or billiards room and jazz/pop room for teenagers and a hobby room. Ground floor maisonettes had small gardens and a playground was built on the hard surface above the garages. Phase 1 of the scheme for the estate also included old people's housing, a shop and a community centre and nursery was added later. On completion in 1968, Goldfinger and his wife Ursula received attention for living in one of the flats for eight weeks, giving him the opportunity to document aspects of living there, which formed a report to the GLC and was later published by the Twentieth Century Society.

STRUCTURE AND MATERIALS: reinforced concrete, with timber cladding to balconies, and an asphalt flat roof. Bush hammered concrete is well detailed, with fair margins and radiused (rounded) corners and executed to a high standard. There are marble linings to the hall, and sapele hardwood doors. 

PLAN: 136 one- and two-bedroomed flats and ten maisonettes arranged on 26 storeys, with six units per floor and five maisonettes on floors 1 and 2 and 15 and 16 - the latter forming a distinctive break in the pattern of the fenestration and balconies. The units are served at every third floor by enclosed corridors or access galleries linking them to an otherwise detached service tower containing lifts, rubbish chutes, laundry rooms and former games, music and hobby rooms, and topped by a boiler tower with a stepped profile and chimneys. One bedroom flats open directly onto the access gallery; above and below, accessed by internal stairs, are dual aspect flats. At the southern end of the building there is a secondary stair. 

EXTERIOR: the west facing elevation, to St Leonard's Road, has balconies to every flat, those to the maisonettes set on the upper floor are cuboid in form, projecting from the centre of the unit and forming a distinctive pattern. The west elevation has the original rectangular timber windows with a thick profile that serve as a vertical contrast to the horizontal rhythm of the balcony fronts. On the rear, east, elevation access corridors are expressed at every third floor by a continuous band. Window units (replaced but not to Goldfinger's original specification) are in groups of three with a full height central light. Originally the block was topped by a thick cornice which was removed some years ago. The iconic service tower is lit by vertical slit lights, arranged in groups of five, ten or fifteen on the west face in three or five on the other faces. The boiler house and chimneys were altered early on, assuming their current profile, to provide capacity for Carradale House when it was built. The main, west entrance, approached by a concrete walkway and bridge with a tiled surface, is in a projecting pod and has a hardwood door with vertical glazed panels (replacing the original plate glass screens). There is a similar but isolated projection on the east face that originally connected to an east walkway, providing a throughway, which was later removed, probably when the Blackwall Tunnel approach road was widened. 

INTERIOR: the hard finishes of these interiors are unusually well thought out and flats are generously proportioned, light and airy. The entrance hall is marble lined, though part replaced in green tiles. Doorways in lift lobbies have robust concrete shouldered frames, and doors to common areas are of hardwood with vertical glazed panels and full height moulded handles. Stair wells within the service tower are enclosed, generously proportioned, lit by ranks of slit windows and have steel balustrades allowing sight up and down. In the access galleries the concrete frame and wall panels, in different aggregates, are exposed. Inner walls are clad in brightly coloured glazed tiles, different colours distinguishing the different levels; floors are quarry tiled. A number of un-renovated flats have original flush panel entrance doors and fittings and retain their original plan and fixtures and fittings including interlocking stairs, some with horizontal timber balustrades. Flush panel doors have slender architraves and some retain Goldfinger's integral light switches.