Saturday, October 10th 2015
As we move around London, a particular building often appears on the skyline. It is loved by some and hated by others but it is unique and has achieved a Grade II* listing. Having seen it so often from a distance (the best way to see it, according to some), we thought it time we took a closer look.
It is a tower block, containing 217 flats, some shops and other facilities. The taller section comprises 31 floors and the lower section (at the front in the photo) 7 floors. On the corner is a semi-free-standing tower, 35 storeys tall, with utility rooms at the top. It contains the lifts necessary for accessing the various floors. However, it is connected to the main building only every third floor, necessitating use of stairs to reach intermediate floors.
The Greater London Council commissioned the architect to design and build this Brutalist icon to provide social housing. It was built at a time when it was already being realized that tower blocks had bad social consequences and it soon gained a reputation for crime, violence and vandalism. It has recovered somewhat in recent times and as a result of Margaret Thatcher’s Right to Buy policy, some of the flats are now privately owned. If you wanted to follow suit and buy a flat in the Tower yourself, nowadays you would need to pay something like £375,000 down and a £3,000-per-annum service charge.
Having reached the foot of the tower, I found that it was virtually impossible to include the whole of it in a single frame. The first two photos above were made by stitching together two or more separate images.
Rather than parrot readily available facts about the building, I will refer you to online sources on the Trellick Tower and on Ernö Goldfinger, and you will find plenty more online. I will retail one frequently told fact, though. You may have felt that the architect’s name was vaguely familiar. If so, this is no doubt because it recalled to your mind the James Bond film and book, Goldfinger. There is no coincidence here. Bond author Ian Fleming despised Ernö Goldfinger and deliberately named his villain after him.
We decided to take a look around the back of the building. I expected to find a service area and perhaps a car park but instead, we saw first the above ‘graffiti trailer’ and then…
…this ‘graffiti van’. That suggested there might be more art on view. And there was…
We soon found ourselves in an open area at the foot of the tower. For want of a better name, I describe it as an ‘art garden’. Maybe it was once a playing field but I suspect it is a piece of ground that has been earmarked for development at some future time.
We found a number of artists at work. There were a lot of walls – some, I think from demolished buildings – providing surfaces to paint on. One artist spoke to us and confirmed that wall painting was permitted in this area.
We found the art on show rather disappointing. There was very little figurative art. Most of it was lettering in various styles. This seems to be a fad at the moment, and large areas hitherto displaying portraits and pictures are disappearing under a creeping rash of lettering. I asked the artist about this but she only muttered something about people ‘painting whatever they liked’ and while I agree with the sentiment, I didn’t find it a very informative answer.
Feeling in need of refreshment, we were pleased to discover a cafe in the Trellick building. It is called Bain-Marie and promotes the owner’s ‘real food’ philosophy. (If interested, you can explore that here.) The cafe works in alliance with what I at first took to be a second-hand shop but is somewhat more interesting than that. Called the Goldfinger Factory, it doesn’t just recycle items but uses them to create new articles, thus, according to its Web site, ‘empowering communities to turn waste into gold’. Neat trick if it works.
On the way home we stopped at a couple of places. The first was Clapham Common where stands this rather fine example of a Victorian drinking fountain. An original plaque tells us that the fountain was ‘THE GIFT OF THE UNITED KINGDOM TEMPERANCE & GENERAL PROVIDENT INSTITUTION’. The fountain was first erected near London Bridge in 1884 and moved here in 1895. (I often wonder whether the provision of drinking fountains dispensing pure water had any measurable effect on the consumption of alcohol. Pending discovery of information to the contrary, I remain sceptical.)
The sculpture, by August von Kreling, represents a woman giving water to a beggar, a common theme in drinking fountain iconography. For added pathos, the beggar, holding a crutch, has his right leg severed at the knee.
I liked the lion-head spouts, nicely modelled, though they, alas, no longer produce water for the thirsty traveller.
Passing through Brixton, we spotted this portrait of – I think – David Bowie. It is signed but even if it wasn’t, I think the floating coloured balls would betray the artist as Jimmy.C.