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C20 Society: ‘Loss of Goldfinger features at Balfron not justified’

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The Twentieth Century Society has raised concerns over plans to revamp Erno Goldfinger’s Balfron Tower in East London

The long-awaited planning application which will see homes in the 1968 tower converted from social housing to apartments for private sale was submitted last month.

The plans which have been drawn up by Studio Egret West and Ab Rogers Design will change the layouts of flats, replace windows and landscape the building’s roof terrace. Tower’s concrete cornice will be reinstated as part of the proposed work.

An example of each of the original six Goldfinger-designed flats layouts are to be kept as part of the scheme. However in the remaining 140 apartments partition walls between kitchens and living rooms will be removed and the layouts changed to allow more light into the homes.

In its design and access statement, Studio Egret West, said: ‘All of the original communal areas are now empty, the circulation areas appear unloved and there are issues of security and safety. It is no longer a shining example of contemporary living and is in need of a little love.

‘We want to harness all that is clever, well considered and beautiful about Balfron Tower while significantly improving the performance of the building.’

But in a letter objecting to the planning application, which is backed by for Poplar HARCA, Londonewcastle and United House, the Twentieth Century Society claimed the changes would ‘be detrimental to the character of this highly significant landmark building.’

It called upon the architects to adopt a ‘conservation approach’ and added that: ‘proposals would dilute the strong Goldfinger design aesthetic and cause harm to key defining features of the building. We are confident that the applicant can achieve many of their aims for this building, while at the same time preserving its special character.’

The society said a decision on the planning application should be delayed until the result of a submission to upgrade the building’s listed status is revealed.

Preservation body Docomomo has applied to have the 27-storey Balfron Tower upgraded to a grade II*-listed status to match Goldfinger’s Trellick Tower in north Kensington, is also unhappy with the proposed changes.

Writing to object to the planning application, Docomomo’s James Dunnett, said he was ‘unhappy with the wholesale destruction’ and ‘serious damage’ that would be caused by the changes to the flats.

The plans will also see all the buildings window replaced, a move which heritage organisation Docomomo said will be the ‘most striking change in the appearance of Balfron’.

The scheme’s original windows were all white painted timber and the majority were replaced in the 1990s when funding from the Blackwall Tunnel project allowed new uPVC to be fitted.

In a report responding to the planning application, James Dunnett of Docomomo said that the proposals, which would make windows on all facades identical, failed to take into account the environmental conditions of the different sides of the tower.

He also added: ‘It is the belief of DOCOMOMO-UK that Balfron Tower would best remain as social housing for which its design, history and conception suit it, and its conservation might then more readily follow the example of the refurbishment of Carradle House adjacent which is to remain as social housing.

‘But even in the context of privatisation it is our belief that a conservation plan that followed much more closely the original design would capitalise on the widespread existing enthusiasm for Goldfinger’s architecture and id-century modern in general. What is proposed risks doing it serious damage, and consent should be refused.’

The objections follow anger from local residents that social housing would be lost in the proposed revamp.

Meanwhile a petition set up by a group of former residents, leaseholders, and local campaigners, calling for at least 50 per cent of housing in the tower to remain as ‘social housing’ has reached more than 2,925 signatures.

Studio Egret West has been contacted for comment.

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