Description

This photograph shows the Hungarian architect and designer Ernö Goldfinger (1902–1987) and wife, Ursula, on the balcony of their twenty fourth floor flat in Balfron Tower, Poplar, east London. Goldfinger, the architect of the building, lived in the building for two months in 1968 to evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of life in a high-rise property.

Ernö Goldfinger

Goldfinger was associated with Brutalist architecture, which was characterised by large, geometric and functional concrete forms. The term ‘Brutalism’ derives from the French expression ‘béton brut’ meaning raw concrete. In Britain, Brutalism rapidly developed in 1960s London with the erection of buildings such as the Queen Elizabeth Hall (1967), the Hayward Gallery (1968) and the Barbican (built 1965–76).

Goldfinger believed that high-rise social housing like Balfron Tower was a solution to post-war housing problems in Britain. Built in 1967, the design for Balfron Tower was based on utopian socialist principles. It features spacious, private flats and ‘sky bridges’ intended to encourage social interaction. In a letter to the Guardian, Goldfinger wrote that, ‘the whole object of building high is to free the ground for children and grown-ups to enjoy Mother Earth and not to cover every inch with bricks and mortar’. [1]

Although Goldfinger’s significance is now acknowledged, his reputation suffered during his lifetime. Incidents of crime, poor building management and design flaws within the Balfron and Trellick Towers were widely reported on by the press.

Balfron Tower, J G Ballard and High-Rise

Goldfinger’s Balfron and Trellick Towers have long been associated with High-Rise by J G Ballard. Ballard’s portrayal of architect Anthony Royal, for instance, draws parallels to the two months that Goldfinger and his wife spent living in one of Balfron Tower's apartments, as pictured here. Ballard's 1975 novel depicts a descent into violence and societal breakdown within an ultra-modern high-rise tower in which residents are divided into floors according to social class.

[1] National Trust, <http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/article-1355860158401/> [accessed 21/10/2015]

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