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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