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A failed experiment: Goldfinger'sTrellick Tower in North Kensington 

Is it pure coincidence that it is socialists who tend to favour tower blocks for (other) people to live in? The evidence of an ideological connection is abundant. The instinct for centrally planned, standardised, uniform housing has been key to egalitarian dogma. Ernö Goldfinger was the architect for Trellick Tower, the 31-storey block in North Kensington (a Grade II-listed building). Goldfinger, whose name was made synonymous with evil by Ian Fleming (admittedly an anti-Semite) in his eponymous James Bond thriller, had as an earlier commission the offices for the Communist Party of Great Britain. Goldfinger did live in another of his own monstrosities-Balfron Tower in Poplar. He had a flat on the 25th floor and would host champagne receptions for other tenants. But he left after two months. 

Le Corbusier, a great influence on Soviet architecture, was in cahoots with Mussolini and the Vichy regime in France. Brutalism, in architecture as in other things, united the totalitarians of both fascist and Communist hues. 

The married couple and architectural partners Peter and Alison Smithson lived in a Victorian house in Chelsea. They designed the Robin Hood Gardens estate in Poplar, one of the most notorious crime-ridden examples of modernism. The Smithsons' influence in advancing the modernist cause — for instance via the Architectural Association — extended well beyond their own buildings. It was this couple who coined the phrase "New Brutalism" — meaning it as a compliment. Alison said their work was "a parallel cultural phenomenon to the first brave successes of socialist ideals." 

Berthold Lubetkin was a pioneering modernist who worked for the Labour-run Finsbury Council in the 1930s. He was quite explicit that his purpose was "not simply to build architecturally, but to build socialistically as well". A Communist Party member, he designed a memorial to Lenin-as well as the penguin pool and gorilla house for London Zoo.

Sir Denys Lasdun was responsible for the brutalist Hallfield Estate in Bayswater and Keeling House in Bethnal Green. Again he was a socialist-although he was teased not only for accepting a knighthood but for sending his children to private schools, as well as living in a lovely Victorian house in Hammersmith.

Does it just so happen that Lord Rogers, the architect and resident of what were two Georgian houses in Chelsea which he knocked through, is a Labour peer rather than a Tory one?

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November 13th, 2013
3:11 PM
Excellent article! It seems like there was some horrible collision between architects' massive arrogance, their disinclination to think small, politician's quotas, money saving, and socialist ideology.

September 19th, 2013
10:09 PM
Tom Bristow seems to have become so angered by this article that he cannot deal with the essential argument put forward. Instead he is the one doing the blustering - that the article is ignorant, ill-informed etc. I am afraid that he comes across as one of the very planning apparatchiks that Phibbs criticises (trying to justify the building of these ghastly hell-holes). I am also deeply suspicious when someone says "We need a debate but this is not it" - a tactic often used by those who claim they want a free and open discussion on immigration, law and order, education etc, etc but in fact only want to discuss these issues on terms terms they deem acceptable.

September 19th, 2013
4:09 PM
Ireland's experience with high rises has been disasterous. Any other alternative is better than them.

Paul Fox
September 4th, 2013
10:09 PM
Most continental Europeans live in high rise apartments. Europeans are better at living in them and building them in a way that works. Suggesting that high rise developments are part of some left wing agenda is vacuous and unhelpful. I think most people in the Barbican enjoy living there. Including architects.

Guy Flaneur
September 3rd, 2013
7:09 AM
One good example of the Hitlerian School of Architecture is the fortunately not built ambition of Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris a/k/a LeCorbusier in Paris. A vandal right up there with Albert Speer.

Tom Bristow
August 30th, 2013
12:08 AM
What a mixture of Wikipedia and bile. This article does nothing to move the debate on but rehash tired arguments and make unfounded points. In summary your article explains that modernism and modernist architecture was promoted by people with left-wing views and high-rise estates often exacerbate social problems- insightful. Why engage in thoughtful debate about the fallacy of singularity and environmental psychology when you can just bluster? I must return to basics. Post war society was grappling with an unprecedented housing shortage, huge urban overcrowding and deteriorating housing stock. Tower blocks were a response to those circumstances, and I've no doubt that as you're actually pushing a progressive agenda had you been around at that time you'd be one of those supporting doing something to improve housing conditions (and the very fact you hold the views you do is precisely because you have the legacy of high rise estates to argue against). I must break it to you that modernists were in their view actually trying to do something positive for society rather than what you seem to view as engaging in a conspiracy to mess things up intentionally (and, it's implied, somehow roll out a vindictive socialist agenda). And they did effect some positive change- the health of the urban population did improve as a result of better living conditions. Though don't get me wrong high rise estates did disrupt communities and fail to understand that people are, well, people. Let's also not forget that the very architects and planners you deride devised new towns that sprung up at the same time that housed millions and remain some of the most economically buoyant areas in the UK's economy.  An important distinction you fail to make is between post war social tower blocks and new private high rise- the former responded to housing need the latter to housing demand. There is therefore unarguably a social dimension to post-war housing estate problems as there is an economic dimension to recent high-rise development: would it be viable to build the Shard in the Cotswolds? You're mixing up a building type with a housing tenure. On planning it seems like you're in a bygone era. Aside from Structure Plans being superseded by legislation a decade ago, planning is one of the most publicly accessible professions (since Skeffington in 1969 which I would encourage you to read as it makes many of your points). All Local Plans are subject to public consultation and then examined by a planning Inspector who again considers anything that's relevant. Anyone can, and everyone should, contribute their views. And you're entirely wrong I'm afraid on Local Councillors- Members must approve Local Plans and determine such planning applications as they see fit. If you have been talking to Members who have suggested that their officers have snuck in policies or blinded them with science, tell them to get a grip on planning in their areas and better understand the system. We need a progressive debate about housing design, density and supply but this is not it. This is blame culture- lets all point and laugh at those conspiratorial idiots that tried to improve things and feel superior. Stop it and start thinking and engaging with planners and architects about how we can best guide future development.

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