New perspectives: a sky-high festival celebrates London’s Balfron Tower during the LFA
The architect Erno Goldfinger is indelibly associated with the Trellick Tower, the once-derided concrete edifice on London’s western fringes that bucked anti-Brutalist sentiment to become one of the capital’s most desirable designer pied-a-terres.
About ten miles due east sits the Trellick’s still lesser-known sibling, the Balfron Tower. Completed in 1967, it predates Trellick by five years and was something of a testbed for the architect’s quest to perfect the interaction between apartments, services, and surroundings. After completion, the Goldfingers took their own apartment in the Balfron, number 130, and ran champagne-fuelled consultancies with the residents to hone the way the flats were laid out; ideas that were taken forward with the Trellick.
The Balfron still stands as bold and robust as it did the day it opened. Living spaces are generous by today’s paltry standards, and every apartment is dual aspect, with views west over the City and east towards Essex. Of course, the Balfron also hasn’t been without its problems. Goldfinger embedded services deep within the core, making upgrading problematic, destructive and expensive. Fancy ideas like tennis courts and integral sandpits were never properly used and there were the usual problems with lifts, lights and insulation.
Ultimately, while the Trellick benefited hugely from the uplift of its west London location, turning it into a desirable (and expensive) place to live, the Balfron lost out in the location stakes. Looming large over the approach road to the Blackwall Tunnel, close to East India Dock Road, it lords over a long-overlooked stretch of London that can practically touch the silvery towers of Canary Wharf; although didn’t have the chance to benefit from similar investment up till now.
Change is afoot. Poplar HARCA, a local housing association, has a major refurbishment underway. Carradale House, the low rise Goldfinger block alongside the Balfron, has already been given a substantial overhaul, and the next step is to tackle the tower.
In this interim state, the Balfron Tower finds itself the central hub of new British Council-led mini festival - itself part of the wider London Festival of Architecture programme. New Perspectives: A Celebration at Balfron on 21 June is described as a ’vertical carnival’, with a collection of in-tower installations by interior design students from the RCA, weaving narratives and performances around the building.
As well as playing host to the RCA, the tower will contain an exhibition related to the British Council’s International Architecture Showcase, an ongoing programme that looks at how émigrés and outsiders have shaped the city. Pairing international architects with London firms, a set of ten teams are working on a new idea for the tower itself and its surroundings. Elsewhere, there are walking tours, artist talks, film screenings and a rooftop panel event, offering up London as a backdrop to a discussion on the émigré architecture in London over the decades. Seize a rare chance to take a skyline tour of London from a new perspective.