Balfron Tower

Coordinates: 51°30′49.1″N 00°00′31.7″W / 51.513639°N 0.008806°W / 51.513639; -0.008806
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Balfron Tower
Balfron tower.jpg
Balfron Tower, a prominent example of Brutalist housing
General information
TypeResidential flats
LocationLondon, E14
United Kingdom
Coordinates51°30′49.1″N 00°00′31.7″W / 51.513639°N 0.008806°W / 51.513639; -0.008806
Construction started1965
Roof84 metres (276 ft)
Technical details
Floor count26
Design and construction
Architect(s)Ernő Goldfinger
Listed Building – Grade II*
Official nameBalfron Tower
Designated14 March 1996
Reference no.1334931

Balfron Tower is a 26-storey residential building in Poplar, Tower Hamlets, East London. Built in a Brutalist style, 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 listed building since 1996 (Grade II*, originally Grade II).[1][2] Balfron Tower is stylistically similar to Goldfinger's later Trellick Tower in London.


Balfron Tower is 84 metres (276 ft) high and contains 146 homes (136 flats and 10 maisonettes).[2] Lifts serve 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 eight walkways.

The maisonettes are on floors 1 and 2, and 15 and 16, causing a break in the pattern of fenestration on the west side.[3]

The service tower is topped by a boiler room. In 1985, the original concrete boiler flues were replaced with metal, due to concrete decay.[4]

November 2005

Carradale House[edit]

Carradale House, with Balfron Tower behind it

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.[5] The block is 37 metres (121 ft) tall with 11 floors, and contains 88 flats.[6] 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 identified all the possible improvements and incorporated 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. Over the course of three years, Carradale underwent an extensive and careful renovation under the supervision of English Heritage and the direction of PRP Architects.[7]

The two blocks were known as Rowlett Street Phases I and II during development[4] 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.

Brownfield Estate[edit]

Owen Hatherley describes the surrounding Brownfield Estate as "all designed with an attention to detail and quality of materials unusual for the 60s or any other decade".[8]


Balfron Tower lobby in 2008

Balfron Tower was designed by architect Ernő Goldfinger and is associated with the Brutalist style of 1960s 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.[9] 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, (later changed to Grade II*)[1][2] followed by Carradale House in 2000.[5] to spare them from demolition. Carradale and Glenkerry Houses were also included in the Balfron Tower Conservation Area, designated in 1998.[4] 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.[10] In recent years Balfron Tower has been popular with visitors during the annual Open House Weekend.[11]

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.[12]

Refurbishment and sell-off[edit]

Entrance door to the tower

HARCA began a full refurbishment of the buildings in 2011. The architectural firm PRP which took up this project looked 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 was 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 had 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.[13][14] 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.[15]

The first phase of the refurbishment took place from 2011 to 2014 with the lower block, Carradale House. Key features of the refurbishment include:[7] 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.

Work to refurbish Balfron Tower was undertaken through a joint partnership with Londonewcastle, a luxury residential developer.[16] Pending the works to Balfron Tower, some flats were temporarily occupied by artists, who contributed to the community and put on displays in "heritage flat" number 123.[17] A major photographic project was undertaken in November 2010.[18][19]

In September 2014, Wayne Hemingway restored Goldfinger's former flat number 130 to 1960s style as part of a National Trust exhibition on brutalism.[20]

As residents were decanted, a campaign formed in December 2014 in an attempt to save 50% of the Balfron as social housing.[21] In February 2015, residents and campaigners protested HARCA in February 2015 over fears that social tenants would be evicted.[22] Shortly afterwards, it was announced that no social housing would be retained, and that all of the flats would be sold.[23] Six "heritage" apartments have been retained with original layout and colour scheme, with fixtures matching the originals.[24]

The second phase refurbishment plans were strongly opposed by the Twentieth Century Society in 2015.[25] In particular they claim that the 'unsympathetic' replacement of the tower's windows has compromised the distinction and importance of the tower, reducing it from a 'genuinely iconic brutalist masterpiece' to an 'ersatz hybrid'.[25]

Public reaction to sell-off[edit]

Professor Rowland Atkinson from the University of Sheffield:

"The decision to convert two of the most symbolic tower blocks in London from local authority to private residences is a sign of how much the city has been set in service to the needs of capital and the rich."[26]

In popular culture[edit]

Shots of the building are featured in music videos for "This Is Music" by The Verve, "Morning Glory" by Oasis, "Mortalhas" by ProfJam, "Ready to Go" by Republica, and “Money Talks” by Rubella Ballet.

Balfron Tower has appeared as a location in many British television programmes, often when an impression of urban deprivation was required.[14] 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.

The tower is featured in the 1988 film For Queen and Country, starring Denzel Washington and was the filming location for Shopping, a 1994 film written and directed by Paul W. S. Anderson. It also features in Danny Boyle's post-apocalyptic horror film 28 Days Later[27][28] and the 2011 film Blitz.[29]

In July 2014 artist Catherine Yass was refused permission to drop a piano from the Tower as part of a "community workshop to explore how sound travels".[30]

In 2014, the National Trust refurbished flat 130, where Goldfinger lived, to resemble its appearance in the 1960s. The work was designed by Tilly Hemmingway, with objects donated by the Land of Lost Content, a popular culture museum in Shropshire.[31]

UK grime artist Wiley used Balfron Tower and the Brownfield Estate as the location for the music video of his track "P Money" in 2015, which was then later featured in his 2017 album Godfather.

The tower is referenced in the song "Balfron" by the band John on their album God Speed in the National Limit.



The estate is served by London Buses routes 108 and 309. London Buses routes 15, 115 and D8 run nearby.


The estate is adjacent to the junction of the Limehouse Cut canal and the River Lea Navigation at Bow Locks.

Docklands Light Railway[edit]

The nearest stations are Langdon Park and All Saints for Docklands Light Railway services towards Canary Wharf and Stratford.

London Underground Station[edit]

The nearest London Underground stations are Bromley-by-Bow tube station and Bow Road tube station on the District and Hammersmith & City lines, and in Travelcard Zones 4 and 3 respectively.[32]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Building of the Month: December 2012 – Balfron Tower". Twentieth Century Society. Retrieved 6 October 2021.
  2. ^ a b c Historic England. "Balfron Tower (1334931)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 16 February 2014.
  3. ^ "Brutalist buildings: Balfron Tower, London by Ernö Goldfinger". Dezeen. 24 September 2014. Retrieved 16 January 2016.
  4. ^ a b c Balfron Tower Conservation Area Appraisals and Management Guidelines Archived 22 February 2012 at the Wayback Machine, Tower Hamlets Council. Retrieved 23 November 2009
  5. ^ a b Historic England. "Carradale House (1246931)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 11 December 2014.
  6. ^ Carradale House at Skyscraper News
  7. ^ a b Balfron Tower & Carradale House Archived 18 July 2013 at, Poplar HARCA. Retrieved 18 July 2013.
  8. ^ "Brownfield Estate, Poplar. Designed by Ernő Goldfinger". London's most underappreciated architecture – in pictures. 28 May 2013. Retrieved 28 May 2013.
  9. ^ Alice Rawsthorn (8 November 2009). "Child's Play". The New York Times. p. 4. Retrieved 23 November 2009.
  10. ^ Brutalist towers are worshipped by the young urban crowd, The Times, 4 July 2008
  11. ^ "A Taste for the modern". Financial Times. 2 September 2011. Archived from the original on 26 November 2011. Retrieved 27 December 2011.
  12. ^ 'Better quality of life', Tower Hamlets Council, 18 December 2007
  13. ^ Balfron Tower & Carradale House[permanent dead link] at PRP Architects website
  14. ^ a b The future's golden for Balfron, Building Design, October 2008
  15. ^ Alistair Kleebauer (21 December 2010). "Redevelopment of iconic Balfron Tower leads to housing uncertainty". East London Advertiser. Retrieved 21 December 2010.
  16. ^ "Londonewcastle and United House to refurb iconic Goldfiner tower". Londonewcastle. 20 December 2013. Archived from the original on 8 April 2014. Retrieved 8 April 2014.
  17. ^ Bow Arts In Balfron Tower, Londonist, 17 March 2009
  18. ^ "Residents of Balfron Tower empowered by Simon Terrill's photographic representation". World Architecture News. 28 October 2010. Archived from the original on 15 September 2012. Retrieved 21 December 2010.
  19. ^ High society Archived 5 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine, Inside Housing, 17 December 2010
  20. ^ Mark Brown (26 September 2014). "Balfron Tower exhibition showcases Ernő Goldfinger's brutalist talent". The Guardian. Retrieved 29 November 2017.
  21. ^ "About - Balfron Social Club".
  22. ^ Mike Brooke (18 February 2015). "East End tenants 'booted out' of Goldfinger's iconic Balfron Tower' claim". East London Advertiser.
  23. ^ Mortimer, Benjamin (24 March 2015). "How the Balfron Tower tenants were 'decanted' and lost their homes". East End Review. Retrieved 16 January 2016.
  24. ^ Wainwright, Oliver (26 July 2022). "'The council tenants weren't going to be allowed back': how Britain's 'ugliest building' was gentrified". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 July 2022.
  25. ^ a b "C20 Society's fears are confirmed as the Balfron Tower's new look is unveiled". Twentieth Century Society. 7 March 2019. Retrieved 13 March 2019.
  26. ^ Atkinson, Rowland (2020). Alpha City: How the Super-Rich Captured London. Verso. ISBN 978-1-78873-797-5.
  27. ^ 'Decaying east London tower block to house 12-hour Macbeth production' The Guardian, 19 June 2014
  28. ^ "Balfron 2.0: how Goldfinger's utopian tower became luxury flats". the Guardian. 19 September 2019. Retrieved 2 September 2022.
  29. ^ Blitz Trailer No. 2 (Trailer). Maple Pictures. 20 July 2011. Event occurs at 0:13. Retrieved 14 August 2011.
  30. ^ Tom Brooks-Pollock (10 July 2014). "Artist's plan to drop piano off 27-storey tower block falls flat". Evening Standard.
  31. ^ "National Trust opens 1960s pop-up flat in iconic tower". East London Lines. 26 September 2014. Retrieved 10 August 2021.
  32. ^ Standard Tube Map (PDF) (Map). Not to scale. Transport for London. November 2022. Archived (PDF) from the original on 7 November 2022. Retrieved 12 November 2022.

External links[edit]