Trellick Tower

Updated Monday 26th November 2001

How did the Trellick Tower become "the tower of terror"?

Trellick Tower Creative commons image Icon Ben.Harper under CC-BY-NC-SA licence under Creative-Commons license

Architect:
Erno Goldfinger, (Hungary)

 

Construction Date:
(1968 - 1972)

Location:
London

The Tower of Terror

During the 1980s, one building more than any other came to epitomise the problems of Modernism, at least in the eyes of the general public. Trellick Tower in west London featured regularly in the tabloids, and their stories of what was to be found in its brutalist corridors were terrifying.

Women raped in elevators, children attacked by heroin addicts in the basement, and homeless squatters setting fire to flats were among the more lurid. So bad was the Tower's reputation that one urban myth told how the architect, wracked with guilt at creating this monstrosity, threw himself from the roof.

Hungarian émigré Erno Goldfinger was immensely proud of his 31 storey, 322 feet high rectangular slab which dominates the west London skyline. And in recent years, thanks to the concerted efforts of the residents, the Tower's reputation has been transformed.

The number of flats for sale is still small (only a handful out of the 219 flats are bought), but those that do change hands privately go for £150,000- £200,000.

Residents bristle at the Tower's reputation as a home for the new 'urban cool', but since the installation of a concierge and basic security apparatus, Trellick's debilitating social problems have been largely stamped out and the building has become something of a pop culture icon. In 1998, it was awarded a Grade 2* listing.

Goldfinger's Last Stand

Work started on Trellick in 1968, the same year as the explosion at Ronan Point, and was completed four years later.

Today, the Tower can be seen as something of a last stand by high-rise architects. It was Goldfinger's last commission, and for many years his least popular. In true Modernist fashion, Goldfinger's Tower paid little heed to its surroundings- it dwarves nearby buildings, and its Brutalist concrete exterior makes it even more striking. It is a building which also paid little attention to the worries about Modernist housing in the late 1960s.

Whilst architects like Alison and Peter Smithson were seriously questioning the wisdom of modernist high-rise buildings, Erno Goldfinger was blaming the people who lived in Trellick Tower for its problems- "I built skyscrapers for people to live in there and now they messed them up - disgusting."

Revival

Trellick is now managed by the same Tenants' Management Organisation which runs Kensal House.

Under the TMO's guidance, security systems like CCTV and a concierge have been installed, and crime has fallen in and around the building. The flats themselves are large by tower-block standards, and packed with space-saving devices. The bathrooms are each of minimal dimension and the doors of wood and glass slide rather than open out, and can be used to partition certain parts of each flat.

Glass is plentiful in order to let in as much natural light as possible. The idea of these "living units" is modelled on Le Corbusier's Unite d'Habitation. Adjoining the main tower is a service tower. This incorporates lifts, stairs, and refuse chutes, as well as a boiler house. The lifts stop at every third floor, meaning that in some flats the bedrooms are above, and in some below, the entrance level.

The flats have large balconies which, if you are high enough up, offer views across the North Downs.

Trellick Tower stands today as a monument to Modernism's revival. Unlike system built blocks such as Ronan Point, it is structurally sound and has survived to see the deficiencies in its service elements - concierges, security details- rectified. The story of Trellick suggests that when a tower block is properly managed, high-rise living is viable.

But its well-publicised difficulties equally stand as a reminder of the depth to which public opinion of Modernist architecture sank in the 1970s and 1980s.

 

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