Balfron Tower, a prominent example of Brutalist housing
|Location||Poplar, London, UK|
|Roof||84 metres (276 ft)|
|Design and construction|
Balfron Tower is a 27-storey residential building in Poplar, a district of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets in the East End of London. It forms part of the Brownfield Estate, an area of social housing between Chrisp Street Market and the A12 northern approach to the Blackwall Tunnel. It was designed by Ernő Goldfinger in 1963 for the London County Council, built 1965-67 by the GLC, and has been a Grade II listed building since 1996.
Balfron Tower is 84 metres (276 ft) high and contains 146 homes (136 flats and 10 maisonettes). Lifts serve all entry floors (that is, every third floor); thus, to reach a flat on the 11th, 12th or 13th floors, residents or visitors would take a lift to the 12th. The lift shaft sits in a separate service tower, also containing laundry rooms and rubbish chutes, and joined to the residential tower by the eight walkways visible in the picture.
The service tower is topped by a boiler room. In 1985 the original concrete boiler flutes were replaced with metal, due to concrete decay.
Carradale House (1967–70) is an adjacent, unique, modernist building, also designed by Ernő Goldfinger and Grade II listed. The two buildings appear to be natural extensions of each other, linked by style and design, with the long, low form of Carradale House complementing the height of Balfron Tower. All flats have dual window aspect and large south facing balconies, allowing plenty of natural light, and decorated with natural wood panels on the sides. The block is 37 metres (121 ft) tall with 11 floors, and contains 88 flats. The building has a similar podium to Balfron Tower, albeit more extensive with a large underground car park underneath. It too has sky bridges on the same principle of access at every third floor. After designing Balfron, Goldfinger identifies all the possible improvements and incorporates them first in Carradale House and afterwards to Trellick Tower. Like Balfron Tower, the robust nature of the detailing to this building has helped it to weather the passage of time. Carradale underwent an extensive and careful renovation, that lasted three years under the supervision of The English Heritage and the direction of PRP Architects.
The two blocks were known as Rowlett Street Phases I and II during development before being named after the Scottish villages of Balfron and Carradale, a pattern followed in naming other locations on the nearby Aberfeldy and Teviot estates.
Balfron Tower was designed by architect Ernő Goldfinger and is associated with the Brutalist style of 1960's architecture. Goldfinger himself was pleased with the design and moved into flat 130, on the 25th floor, for two months in 1968. He and his wife threw champagne parties to find out what the residents liked and disliked about his design. He applied what he learnt to his design for the similar and more famous Trellick Tower in West London. Goldfinger's studio later added Glenkerry House on the same estate, complementing Balfron Tower and Carradale in style.
The building was given Grade II listed status in March 1996, followed by Carradale House in 2000. Carradale and Glenkerry Houses were also included in the Balfron Tower Conservation Area, designated in 1998. The listing continues to attract comment, especially in view of the failure of another nearby Brutalist estate, Robin Hood Gardens, to obtain the same protection. In recent years Balfron Tower has been popular with visitors during the annual Open House Weekend.
In December 2007, following a ballot of residents in 2006, Tower Hamlets Council transferred its ownership of Balfron Tower, Carradale House and the surrounding Brownfield Estate to Poplar HARCA, a housing association.
Poplar HARCA is currently carrying out a full refurbishment of the buildings. The architectural firm PRP which has taken up this project is looking to restore these Brutalist structures to their original form as required by English Heritage, and also to bring the buildings up to modern specifications and 21st century living standards. The refurbishment is technically challenging, due to the need to install new services without disturbing the listed exterior. The solid concrete design also suffers inherently from cold bridging, which has to be remedied by internal wall insulation.
Residents were to have the option to keep their flats in the blocks, or to move into new low-rise homes nearby, in which case the vacated flats would be sold to finance the works. However, in October 2010 the residents of both blocks were sent notice that the refurbishment would require all residents to move out, due to fire safety and other risks, with no undertaking on whether they could return.
The first phase of the refurbishment started in November 2011 with the lower block, Carradale House, and the works are due to finish April 2014. Key features of the refurbishment include: replacement of existing windows with high-performance examples matching original pattern; upgrade of thermal performance using materials to provide insulation and vapour barriers; efficient gas-fired boilers for replacement communal heating system; and new wet services, incorporating water conservation measures. Internally, communal spaces and flats are sensitively refurbished in keeping and without altering Goldfinger's original layouts and heritage features. These embody key considerations related to restoring the key elements of the original scheme, undertaking repair and replacement on like-for-like basis, ensuring a lifespan of at least 30 years, taking advantage of a once in a lifetime opportunity to scaffold the entire building and upgrading as far as possible to accord with modern standards. This will ensure its future effectiveness and desirability as a place to live. The Housing Association (freeholder) Poplar Harca's budget is in the region of £10.000.000 and leaseholders are asked to contribute around £50.000 per flat for all the major works that are taking place during this refurbishment.
Works at Balfron Tower are due to start after Carradale House is completed in May 2014. Poplar Harca is to enter a joint partnership with Londonewcastle, a luxury residential developer, to refurbish Balfron Tower. Pending the works to Balfron Tower, some flats are temporarily occupied by artists, who contribute to the community and put on displays in "heritage flat" number 123. A major photographic project was undertaken in November 2010.
The music video for the song "Morning Glory" by Oasis features various external shots of Balfron Tower in its opening scenes. In the first frame, One Canada Square at Canary Wharf is visible behind it.
Balfron Tower has appeared as a location in many British television programmes, often when an impression of urban deprivation was required. Some that used it extensively are "Faking It", the second episode of the BBC series Hustle; the ITV series The Fixer; and Whitechapel, a three-part drama series produced by Carnival Films.
Balfron Tower features in Danny Boyle's post-apocalyptic film 28 Days Later, although this appearance is often mistakenly credited to Trellick Tower.
- Trellick Tower, similar tower in North Kensington (west London)
- Glenkerry House, later block facing Balfron Tower, housing co-op
- Historic England. "Balfron Tower (1334931)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 16 February 2014.
- Balfron Tower Conservation Area Appraisals and Management Guidelines, Tower Hamlets Council. Retrieved 2009-11-23
- Historic England. "Carradale House (1246931)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 11 December 2014.
- Carradale House at Skyscraper News
- Balfron Tower & Carradale House, Poplar HARCA. Retrieved 18 July 2013.
- "Brownfield Estate, Poplar. Designed by Ernő Goldfinger". London's most underappreciated architecture – in pictures. The Guardian. 28 May 2013. Retrieved 28 May 2013.
- Alice Rawsthorn (2009-11-08). "Child's Play". New York Times. p. 4. Retrieved 2009-11-23.
- Historic England. "Details from image database (469483 )". Images of England. accessed 28 December 2008
- Brutalist towers are worshipped by the young urban crowd, The Times, 4 July 2008
- "A Taste for the modern". Financial Times. 2 September 2011. Archived from the original on 27 December 2011. Retrieved 27 December 2011.
- 'Better quality of life', Tower Hamlets Council, 2007-12-18
- Balfron Tower & Carradale House at PRP Architects website
- The future’s golden for Balfron, Building Design, October 2008
- Alistair Kleebauer (21 December 2010). "Redevelopment of iconic Balfron Tower leads to housing uncertainty". East London Advertiser. Archived from the original on 2010-12-21. Retrieved 2010-12-21.
- Bow Arts In Balfron Tower, Londonist, 17 March 2009
- "Residents of Balfron Tower empowered by Simon Terrill’s photographic representation". World Architecture News. 28 October 2010. Archived from the original on 2010-12-21. Retrieved 2010-12-21.
- High society, Inside Housing, 17 December 2010
- Blitz Trailer #2 (Trailer). Maple Pictures. 20 July 2011. Event occurs at 0:13. Retrieved 14 August 2011.
- Tom Brooks-Pollock. "Artist's plan to drop piano off 27-storey tower block falls flat".