Trellick Tower in West London (5 Golborne Road, W10), an icon of modernism in England, is under attack again, this time from David Cameron’s allies. According to yesterday’s Observer (5.11.06 News, p.6 ‘Hate Builiding: Ask the Tories to knock it down’), a Tory think tank the Policy Exchange led by James O’Shaughnessy wants to put the power to ‘X-list’ a series of urban buildings in the hands of local residents. Top of O’Shaugnessy’s personal x-list is Trellick Tower: he describes it as ‘a brutalist residential monster’. For a different view,based on interviews with people who have lived in Trellick, read my Biography of Ernö Goldfinger.
It is easy to see why people react strongly to Trellick – it is uncompromising and industrial in its appearance. Some people have read it as an autobiographical reflection of the character of its architect, the strong-willed, Hungarian émigré Ernö Goldfinger. Trellick’s distinctive silhouette, with its separate lift and services tower joined to the main block by walkways, is a local landmark and a cultural icon. It regularly features in television advertisements, pop videos, on book covers and even t-shirts. But this is much more than tower block as giant sculpture. Its massive wall of bush-hammered concrete is not beautiful: some people hate it; but to me it is sublime. It is also cleverly designed inside to maximise light, with most apartments having windows on two or three sides. In the 1970s it was known as the ‘Tower of Terror’ and was a hotbed of crime largely because of the lack of control over who entered the building – a situation that was transformed by the introduction of a concierge system. Not that Trellick is straightforwardly the yuppies’ paradise sometimes featured in colour supplements: still largely social housing and in some respects poorly maintained, its outline has been disfigured by telephone masts and a botch of cables…but these are hardly reasons for bringing in the demolition team.
Trellick Tower is in good company though – another prominent landmark buildling high on O’Shaugnessy’s hitlist is Battersea Power Station. That is surely a political mistake. Even though just a husk of a building now, it is much loved (and not just by Pink Floyd fans…What is missing from the article is any sense of how this think tank plans to improve on these two landmark buildings – no doubt with something bland and inconspicuous. Or is this all a bit of political posturing by David Cameron’s friends, a miscalculated attempt at popularism?