diamond geezer

 Monday, September 24, 2012

plaque at Lewisham stationOpen House: Trellick Tower

Few social housing projects are instantly recognisable, but the silhouette of West London's Trellick Tower couldn't be anything else. Nothing else apart from the Balfron Tower, that is, its smaller sister in Poplar. Both were designed by Erno Goldfinger, the Hungarian architect, whose home at 2 Willow Road I told you about a while back. Trellick's widely agreed to be his masterpiece - a commission from the Greater London Council in 1966 - and the embodiment of his Brutalist concrete-loving style. To get inside you need to buy, or rent (most people rent), or else have very good friends who live in this thin highrise tower. Or you need to wait for Open House weekend and get lucky. I got lucky.

Yet again, the Open House pre-booking system proved incredibly flaky. I tried for a Trellick ticket during the only hour the online booking system was vaguely operational (so much frustration, so many refreshes), and thought I'd been unsuccessful. Then two different emails arrived each telling me I'd got a ticket, but both with the same ID code, so really only one. When I turned up at the tower yesterday the concierge buzzed me in and gave me a leaflet, but no names were checked and nobody ever asked whether I had any right to be here. Our tour was under-attended (I guess the hideous weather battering North Kensington put some people off) so anyone could have walked in off the street to make up the numbers. Even you. I'm not sure how Open House could organise pre-bookings better, but it seems they could hardly organise them worse.

It looks lively enough at Carnival, but the top of Golborne Road's no place to be in a September gale. The street lay empty as the rain beat down, and only the foolhardy were still dogwalking in nearby Meanwhile Gardens. One man sheltered in the doorway of the off licence, another two were chatting under the overhang by the betting shop. It was rammed to bursting in the Trellick Lounge, which sounds like it ought to be an upmarket eaterie, but was instead a cafe cum social club where local males congregate to watch big screen TV. The entrance to the Trellick Tower is currently mounted with scaffolding, above which rises a narrow cliff face specked with slit windows. This is the lift tower, used by residents to gain access to the upper floors of the adjacent accommodation. And sticking out at the tip is the plant room where the boiler and hot water storage tanks reside, or used to until made irrelevant by the 70s oil crisis.

The entrance hall used to be open access but now there's a controlled door and a concierge, which has done wonders for the block's previous unsavoury reputation. The lobby's narrower than you might imagine, but then the whole thing has to fit inside the footprint of the lift tower so there's not much space. A noticeboard alerts tenants to important issues (do not feed the squirrels!), while the far wall is brightened by a geometric pattern of stained glass rectangles. At some point in the last 40 years a CCTV camera has been added, and even that's been done semi-sympathetically within a bold green square, such are the demanding requirements of Grade II* listed status. As each new face entered the lobby it was fairly easy to identify who was a resident and who an Open House visitor. Trellick Tower's not the uniformly aspirational living space many would believe, with a relatively small proportion of the 217 flats owned by eager architecture aficionados.

The lifts are currently being upgraded, with only two out of three in service which delays progress up and down the building. They stop only every third floor, due to the peculiar way the main building is laid out with longitudinal corridors on multiples of three only. On reaching your target floor you exit into a double height lobby with six slit windows in the wall to your right. The attention to detail is impressive, for social housing, even down to the tiling which is a different colour on every floor. A solid-looking doorway leads off to the left, with curved concrete surround and a blocky tinted lintel. Step through and you're into the connecting tube, suspended umpteen storeys high looking down over Kensal Town and the Westway. If you've no head for heights, best live somewhere else.

Each corridor is bright and well-maintained, leading eventually to a second emergency staircase at the very far end. One wall's glass, and canal and rooftops, while the other is lined with more than the usual number of front doors. Cleverly all the flats on floors x+1 and x-1 have their entrance on floor x, with stairs beyond either up or down to the appropriate living space. Some are two-storey maisonettes, others rather smaller one-bedroom dwellings, but all somehow fit together in a complex multi-level jigsaw.

For Open House we were kindly allowed entry into two flats, of very different scales. They were neither exactly as built, nor would you expect them to be, but several original features remained. Each had a certain boxiness, though with plenty of space, a true sense of light and a larger kitchen than I might have imagined. Communal heating, paid for out of the service charge, allows residents carte blanche to pump out warmth all year round. And everyone gets a balcony, south-ish facing, which I'm told helps create a perfect elevated suntrap. In yesterday's grim weather, however, the sliding doors were best kept shut to keep the wind and driving rain outside.

The two owners of the Open House "show flats" clearly love living in the Trellick Tower, in one case infectiously so. I'm not quite sure I'd be so keen, more because of access arrangements than architectural quibbles, and because I couldn't afford to buy. If this has whetted your appetite then Chris currently has a flat for sale on the 21st floor, and a bespoke website that'll entice you still further. You'll need half a million pounds, which is bloody good going for a former council flat, plus a substantial wodge of cash to pay for upcoming blockwide refurbishments. But how cool to live in Erno's iconic tower, overlooked by nobody, king of the sky.

» photos: 11 from me, 25 from McTumshie from OH2011, 18 from Hoosier Sands from OH2009

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan19  Feb19  Mar19  Apr19  May19  Jun19  Jul19  Aug19
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18  Jun18  Jul18  Aug18  Sep18  Oct18  Nov18  Dec18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

my flickr photostream