The Balfron Tower by architect Erno Goldfinger is an iconic Brutalist residential high rise located in London’s eastside Poplar borough. Designed in 1963 for the London County Council and completed in 1967 by the Greater London Council, this social housing estate broke the traditions of typical residential architecture. Conceived as a solution to sprawling suburbia, Goldfinger embraced verticality as the cure. More details after the break.
Rising to 84 meters in height, the Balfron Tower dwarfs its immediate neighbors – the Carradale House, and the Glenkerry House – all forming part of the Brownfield Estates also designed by Goldfinger. In a drastic shift from the typical preconception of tower architecture, Goldfinger separated the services from the accommodation by splitting the tower in two. Entry is gained via a concrete bridge that opens into the main lobby of the slender service tower. The internal core houses the lifts and staircases, in addition to the utility functions such as laundry, and waste disposal chutes. A pattern of thin windows breaks up the monolithic concrete exterior and provides ample daylighting into the interior. A boiler room located at the top of the service tower cantilevers out slightly from the main façade. This served to reduce the need for pumps as water could flow down to the flats by gravity.
One of the most unique design choices made by Goldfinger was the layout of the residential portion of the tower. Consisting of 136 flats and 10 maisonettes, the main entries to the flats are located on every third floor, which are connected to the service tower by bridges. Once inside the flat, an internal stairway directs occupants up or down into the next volume of the flat. This decision opened up the floors above and below the public corridors to run the full width of the building. In order to determine the successfulness of his unconventional design, Goldfinger moved into unit 130 for two months in 1968, where he hosted numerous parties for fellow residents. The lessons he learned and the opinions he gleaned from the residents, he would later apply to the Trellick Tower – a much larger twin of the Balfron Tower.
The aesthetics of the exterior are defined by an exposed concrete structure that juxtaposes the verticality of the tower with horizontal bands that frame balconies and windows. The west façade facing St. Leonard’s Road is characterized by balconies for every flat. At the midpoint, recessed windows punctured by cubic cantilevered balconies break up the rhythm of the primary balcony typology. The east façade is absent of balconies, yet continues the horizontal language of the bridges across the whole building face. Clerestory windows at the public corridor levels offer a simple contrast to the residential floors immediately above and below which feature larger windows. Thus, the functions located on each floor become easily decipherable through the aesthetic language employed on the façade.
As testament to its iconic status, the Balfron Tower was designated as a Grade II* listed building in 1996. Its older sibling, the Trellick Tower would later receive the same designation. It was also featured in the British horror film 28 Days Later. Goldfinger’s foray into atypical residential block architecture produced some of the most intriguing buildings of the Brutalist movement in Europe.
Architect: Erno Goldfinger
Location: London, England
Project Year: 1967
References: www.balfronproject.co.uk, www.imagesofengland.org.uk, lovelondoncouncilhousing.blogspot.com
Photographs: Danny Robinson, Wikimedia Commons user: Sebastian F, Flickr user: _gee_, nicobobinus, stevecadman, lovelondoncouncilhousing.blogspot.com