The new bru­tal­ism: Lon­don

Lon­don’s bru­tal­ist past is be­ing brought back to life

Wallpaper - - July -

A fresh twist for Bal­fron Tower, Cen­tre Point and the Econ­o­mist Build­ing

Com­pleted in 1967, the Bal­fron Tower, as well as the low-rise Car­radale House along­side it, re­mains one of the best-known works of the le­gendary modernist provo­ca­teur Ernö Goldfin­ger. Lo­cated on the north­ern ap­proach to the Black­wall Tun­nel, in Lon­don’s Po­plar, it’s of­ten seen as the East End’s equiv­a­lent of Trel­lick Tower, and both share a sil­hou­ette and cer­tain de­tails. But while the Trel­lick’s for­tunes ebbed and flowed be­fore be­com­ing fash­ion­able quar­ters, the Bal­fron never got the same love and at­ten­tion.

For decades, the bold con­crete vi­sions of the 1960s and 1970s were for afi­ciona­dos only. In re­cent years, bru­tal­ism has been cel­e­brated in crisp black and white pho­tog­ra­phy and ren­dered in se­duc­tive graph­ics, yet all too of­ten the real­ity lagged far be­hind. A chronic lack of main­te­nance, plus the ex­per­i­men­tal na­ture of con­crete con­struc­tion, might have given these rain-streaked mono­liths a cer­tain raw edgi­ness, but up close, only the true fetishist could get ex­cited. Fi­nally, though, the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion is get­ting struc­tural.

When it came to re­build­ing the Bal­fron, there was un­de­ni­able con­tro­versy. Op­po­si­tion from lo­cal in­ter­est groups fo­cused on how the block’s orig­i­nal quota of af­ford­able hous­ing would be gone for ever. Its sale to a hous­ing as­so­ci­a­tion in 2007 was on the un­der­stand­ing that some ten­ants could choose to stay if they wished while a hefty re­fur­bish­ment took place. But by 2014, when de­vel­oper Londonewcastle took on the oner­ous re­spon­si­bil­ity of up­dat­ing the struc­ture, Car­radale House was given over to so­cial hous­ing and the Bal­fron was des­ig­nated en­tirely for pri­vate sale.

Ar­chi­tects Stu­dio Egret West (SEW) and Ab Rogers De­sign (ARD) have over­seen the up­date, with Brody As­so­ciates cre­at­ing sig­nage and graphic iden­tity. There’s also a part­ner­ship with artist Ryan Gan­der, who has de­vel­oped a set of door­mats, door num­bers and door­bell sounds, all based on orig­i­nal Goldfin­ger doc­u­ments.

The Hun­gar­ian-born ar­chi­tect’s orig­i­nal de­sign aimed to cre­ate self-con­tained com­mu­ni­ties in the sky. A sep­a­rate ser­vice tower not only de­fined the build­ing, but gave res­i­dents a place for laun­dry and hob­bies, in­clud­ing a des­ig­nated ‘jazz/pop’ room. When they came to re­vamp the build­ing, SEW and ARD be­gan by giving up­dated func­tions to the ser­vice tower, in­clud­ing a com­mu­nal kitchen and din­ing room for events that can’t be held in a two-bed­room flat, together with a work­shop, cin­ema, li­brary, gym and yoga room, as well as a gen­er­ous com­mu­nal roof ter­race. While the build­ing has been stripped back to the struc­ture, the ba­sic lay­out re­mains, with

long ser­vice cor­ri­dors lead­ing to sin­gle and two-storey flats. SEW and ARD di­vided the units up be­tween them, cre­at­ing open-plan lay­outs that con­nect kitchen and liv­ing spa­ces while com­pletely re­do­ing the ser­vices and fin­ishes. The pal­ette of ma­te­ri­als was painstak­ingly com­piled fol­low­ing re­search in Goldfin­ger’s (sub­stan­tial) archives. One of each of the orig­i­nal six flat ty­polo­gies will be pre­served as care­fully recre­ated ‘her­itage’ flats for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. The rest of the 140 flats will adopt a more con­tem­po­rary ap­proach.

Lon­don’s bru­tal­ist clas­sics are now con­sid­ered as in­te­gral to the city’s her­itage as the Ge­or­gian square or a Christo­pher Wren church. The Bar­bican’s Blake Tower, the former YMCA de­signed by es­tate ar­chi­tects Cham­ber­lin, Powell and Bon in 1969, is another ex­am­ple of the bur­geon­ing com­mer­cial clout of bru­tal­ist fetishism. Now re­pur­posed by Conran and Part­ners as a 17-storey build­ing of 74 pri­vate apart­ments, the con­crete pro­vided what project direc­tor Si­mon Kin­caid de­scribes as ‘a re­mark­ably rich start­ing point’. The ar­chi­tects have left ex­posed con­crete in the apart­ments, an un­think­able de­sign de­ci­sion barely a decade ago. Richard Seifert’s Cen­tre Point has also un­der­gone an im­age-boost­ing over­haul and re­cal­i­bra­tion, with its neo-pop bru­tal­ist façade con­tain­ing a clutch of ex­tremely high-end apart­ments. The nearby Econ­o­mist Build­ing, de­signed by bru­tal­ist pi­o­neers Ali­son and Peter Smith­son in 1964, is also get­ting a new lease of life cour­tesy of DSDHA. Where com­merce meets cul­ture, change is in­evitably not far be­hind. Care­ful de­sign has en­sured all these build­ings will bring the best of the past into the present. londonewcastle.com; ab­rogers.com; egretwest.com; brody-as­so­ciates.com

pho­tog­ra­phy: alexan­der Cog­gin writer: jonathan bell

PHO­TOGRAPHED AT STU­DIO EGRET WEST’S HQ IN CLERKENWELL, LON­DON, FROM LEFT TO RIGHT, CAMERON SHORT, AR­CHI­TECT, AND AB ROGERS, FOUNDER, AB ROGERS DE­SIGN; BAERBEL SCHUETT, DIREC­TOR OF DEVEL­OP­MENT, LONDONEWCASTLE; CHRISTOPHE EGRET, CO-FOUNDER AND DIREC­TOR, AND BRIAN MAL­LON, AS­SO­CIATE DIREC­TOR, STU­DIO EGRET WEST; CARO­LINE RAD­FORD, DEVEL­OP­MENT MAN­AGER, LONDONEWCASTLE; ALISAN DOCKERTY, AR­CHI­TECT, STU­DIO EGRET WEST; NEVILLE BRODY, FOUND­ING DIREC­TOR, BRODY AS­SO­CIATES. AN IM­AGE OF BAL­FRON TOWER IS IN THE BACK­GROUND

An IM­PRES­SION of HOW An APART­MENT In THE re­vamped bal­fron Tower MIGHT Look

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