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The Trellick Tower

Sunday evening. Jim Hodgson's four-wheel drive is cruising melodiously and you are staring out over North Kensington and Kensal Rise.

You have passed Tom Wood territory and are now in Ryan Duff land. Either way, either side, it's looking urban out there.  Very urban. Especially after the bucolic delights of your day playing Strollers cricket.  

Or maybe you are squashed into the back seat of Warren Crocker's low-riding, green Vauxhall Astra, your face pressed up against the glass, drooling slightly.  

 

"Look," you say. "That's the Goldfinger building."

 

"Yes," sighs Stair. "Ian Fleming named the villain of the James Bond movies after him."

 

"It's a classic example of the brutalist style," offers Pies. "Grade II listed, though I understand this is hindering refurbishment of the facade, as all the tenants need to contribute to the cost.  It was completed just before the 1973 oil crisis and as a result it has very poor thermal properties. It's not double-glazed, you see.  And the wood is warping."

 

"Hmmm," dozes Mike.

 

"There's one just like it in Poplar," says Warren.

 

Why yes, Trellick Tower - for that is the tower we are admiring - was based on Erno Goldfinger's earlier and slightly smaller Balfron tower in Poplar. Trellick Tower has 31 floors and is 98 metres tall, 120 if you include the communications mast.  It was commissioned by the Greater London Council in 1966.

 

It has inspired a number of writers, musicians and designers, including JG Ballard's 1975 dystopian novel 'High Rise'.  In contrast to the monolithic and grey building he designed, Erno Goldfinger's life encompassed the entire colourful and tragic, splintering sweep of 20th century history, from the dismemberment of the Austro-Hungarian empire, to intellectual cafe culture and early modernism in Paris and finally to London which, as a result of the Blitz, offered great opportunities to civic planners and architects to fulfil their vision.

 

Goldfinger was born in Budapest on 11 September 1902. His family were important in forestry and saw-mills and he initially considered a career in engineering.  He became interested in architecture after reading Herman Muthesias' Das Englische Haus, a description of English domestic architecture. After the fall of the Austro-Hungarian empire he moved to Paris in 1921 and enrolled at the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux Arts.

 

It was in Paris that Goldfinger met various modernists, including Le Corbusier, whose work he greatly admired. In the early 1930s. Goldfinger met and married Ursula Blackwell, heiress to the Crosse-Blackwell fortune and they moved to London.  Crosse-Blackwell was a British food production company founded in the early 18th century and was eventually acquired by Nestle in the 1960s.  Some of its brands survive today.  At one point the company owned the largest fish canning plant in the UK, at Peterhead in Aberdeenshire.

 

Goldfinger built several houses, including his own in  Willow Road, Hampstead, now in the care of the National Trust, and several other minor buildings - offices for the Daily Worker newspaper, primary schools in Putney, etc.  But it was the shortage of housing following the Second World War which provided Goldfinger with the opportunity to stamp his mark on London. Balfron Tower, Carradale House and Trellick Tower are three of the finest examples of brutalist architecture. 

 

Goldfinger himself was a humourless man, known for flying into a rage and dismissing assistants. Allegedly it was a discussion on a golf course between Ursula's cousin and Ian Fleming that prompted Fleming to name the fictional character Auric Goldfinger after him. Though, of course, Fleming was already aware of and had been in conflict with Goldfinger over the demolition of cottages in Hampstead. Goldfinger consulted his lawyers when Fleming published the book 'Goldfinger' in 1959, but backed down when Fleming threatened to rename it 'Goldprick'.

 

Goldfinger died in 15 November 1987.  At the time his work was largely unappreciated but has since undergone a revival of interest. Hipsters. 

“Anyway, see you next week at Hurley. Chur, lads.  Thanks for the lift Jim/Warren. Have a good one. Cheers."

PIERS OVENDEN





 

 

 

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Wednesday 19th
January 2022