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BLOG BEING UPDATED - TRY AGAIN LATER This blog records the controversial era of British architecture, 1960's Brutalism. Many Brutalist buildings have been demolished and many still are under threat

Saturday, 30 May 2015

ARTICLE - Time Out: Balfron Tower

Balfron tower which has been previously featured on this blog was built in 1963 by the pre-eminent brutalist architect Erno Goldfinger and was the first in a series of similar social housing schemes, the most noble other example of course being the later Trellick tower in Kensington. The article in the weekly free London listings magazine Timeout focuses on the impending gentrification of Balfron tower with its conversion from its built purpose of social housing provision to private ownership. Balfron has lagged behind Trellick tower in this regard which was transformed in the 1990's from a 'no go area' to highly desirable real estate. Undoubtedly its transformation under 'right to buy' (effectively privatisation) was important in saving the tower as a feature of the west London skyline (and becoming listed by English Heritage) and facilitating the investment which the building had lacked for so many years under council ownership. 
This process of gentrification which will now be repeated at Balfron (which is already listed) comes two decades after Trellick, primarily due to its less attractive and peripheral location, a stones throw from the roaring Blackwell tunnel approach. However it is comforting to see that the 'Popular HARCA' housing association regards Balfron tower as viable in private ownership, suggesting that there is a ready market and appreciation for such brutalist icons (perhaps forcing a rethink at Robin hood gardens?). However what is concerning is the transformation of these icons has led to a corruption of their original idealism and a blurring of the context in which they were built. Trellick and Balfron towers along with many other brutalist housing schemes were built to house London's poorest with the use of high quality materials and design based on the egalitarian principle that everyone deserved a decent home and standard of living. The process of gentrification can often be brutal for tenants who are effectively thrown out of their homes as there are no plans for any provision of affordable housing in the new scheme, unlike the Trellick scheme in the 1990's despite the housing crisis being much more intense today. 

The consequences of the gentrification of Balfron tower are mixed and can be contested. On the one hand privatisation will allow the capital invested which the tower has been so deprived and is likely to make the building financially viable which will ensure its survival and future. Yet on the other hand the idealism in which it was built has clearly been lost, the egalitarian and the progressive environment determinism (in which it was believed good design would improve the lives of the poor) which are so often central to the narrative of brutalist buildings is in danger of being forgotten and brutalism as a style to be perceived as elitist with only the privileged who can afford a newly refurbished apartment in Balfron tower appreciating its merits - which is far from its original progressive aims.  

Read the online addition HERE


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