Balfron Tower

Balfron Tower is a 27-storey housing block in Poplar, a district of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets in the East End of London, UK. 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.

Design

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 seven 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

Carradale House (1967–70) is an adjacent building, also designed by Ernő Goldfinger and Grade II listed. The two 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. 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. Like Balfron Tower, the robust nature of the detailing to this building has helped it to weather the passage of time.

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.

History

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 in to 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 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. The association is legally committed to carry out a full refurbishment of the buildings. The architectural firm PRP which has taken up this project will be 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 first phase of the refurbishment starts late summer 2011 with the lower Carradale House. The refurbishment will be 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 will have to be remedied by internal wall insulation. Residents were to have the option to keep their flats in the block, or to move into new low-rise homes nearby, in which case the vacated flats would be sold to finance the works.

Pending these works, some flats in Balfron and Carradale are temporarily occupied by artists, who contribute to the community and put on displays in "heritage flat" number 123 Balfron Tower. A major photographic project was undertaken in November 2010.

In October 2010 the residents of both blocks were sent notice that the refurbishment would require all residents to move out, with no undertaking on whether they could return.

Media coverage

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.

Balfron Tower is also featured in the 2011 film Blitz as the residence of the main criminal, Barry Weiss. It is portrayed as an anti-social, dirty and dangerous place.

Media

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