Amelia’s Magazine | Brutalist dreams: The Balfron Project

Illustration by Karina Yarv

A utopian ‘community in the sky’, website like this was the dream of architect Ernö Goldfinger when he designed Balfron Tower in Poplar, East London. This may or may not be the result today, but the effort remains fascinating. The impressive tower, part of a social housing complex near the Blackwall tunnel under the Thames, keeps capturing artists’ imagination, most recently that of Simon Terrill as he initiated The Balfron Project.

The photographer went one step further than most and followed in the footsteps of Goldfinger himself, by moving into the high-rise. Like the architect did 32 years earlier, he invited his new neighbours to come and talk about their experience of living in the building. The eventual result was an hour-long photo shoot, where the residents came out onto their balconies and lawns to be a part of Terrill’s photo of their home.

The Balfron Project by Simon Terrill

Last night at The Nunnery Gallery in Bow we could see the result – a massive, stunning photograph of the tower, beautifully lit against a dark sky. Gallery visitors crowded around to take in the details, with each balcony and window showing the lives of another family living in this City of London heirloom. Some of the tower’s inhabitants were present at the opening, proudly pointing out which flat was theirs. ‘The project does not seek to fictionalise nor expose the lives of those who call the tower home. What the Balfron Project will do, for the first time since the building’s inception, is to generate an arena for reciprocal viewing,’ said Simon Terrill.

Illustration by Romain Lambert-Louis

Goldfinger applied the lessons from Balfron when designing the bigger Trellick Tower in West London, and both buildings remain subjects of fascination. Novelist JG Ballard featured Balfron in his book ‘High-Rise’, while Danny Boyle put it in his post-apocalyptic film ’28 Days Later’. Goldfinger’s futuristic visions meant the architect himself became the inspiration behind the James Bond villain of the same name.

While Terrill’s image of Balfron Tower is beautiful, those who haven’t seen the tower in real life should make sure to do so if they make the trip to Bow. The tower is not far away, at St Leonard’s Road in Poplar. A couple of blocks from Balfron is another brutalist structure, Robin Hood Gardens, where architects Alison and Peter Smithson set out to create ‘streets in the sky’. The structure has outdoor walkways broad enough for several people, but unlike Balfron, Robin Hood does not enjoy listed building-status. This means Robin Hood is looking increasingly rough around the edges, but in spite of this, or maybe because of it, it’s definitely worth seeing as well.

Tower of Balfron by Simon Terrill, after Bruegel’s ‘Babel’

The Balfron Project is on at The Nunnery Gallery, 183 Bow Road, London E3, until 23rd January. See our listing for more information.

Categories ,28 Days Later, ,Alison and Peter Smithson, ,Balfron Tower, ,Bow, ,Bruegel, ,brutalist architecture, ,Danny Boyle, ,Ernö Goldfinger, ,High-Rise, ,James Bond, ,JG Ballard, ,Karina Yarv, ,london, ,photography, ,Poplar, ,Robin Hood Gardens, ,Romain Lambert-Louis, ,Simon Terrill, ,The Balfron Project, ,The Nunnery Gallery, ,Trellick Tower

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