LONDON. When Barbara Hexel and her family moved into Trellick Tower in 1981, their friends thought they were crazy. Known for its uncompromising brutalist design and crime in bleak concrete corridors, the London public housing project, built in 1972, went tabloid nickname “Tower of Terror”.
But for the Hexels, Trellick was an opportunity. The offer was a spacious two-bedroom apartment with stunning views of West London, a vast improvement over the cramped studio the family lived in.
“We’ll take it and make it ours,” Ms Hexel, 70, recalls, telling her husband when they first saw their home.
Ms. Hexel has lived there ever since, enjoying her home in a building that has gone from an eyesore to an icon. Designed by Erno Goldfinger, a Hungarian-born architect whose buildings, as the legend says, so offended by Ian Fleming that he named one of his Bond villains after him, Trellick enjoys cult status. His apartments are sold out as soon as they are put up for sale; its location near Notting Hill, one of the most expensive areas in London.
However, residents now fear that Trellick’s success has left her vulnerable. Last year, they nearly halted construction on a 15-story tower that developers wanted to build between Trellick and the smaller neighborhood, Edenham Way.
“It’s outrageous,” said Molly Berentson-O’Donnell, 26, who grew up on the 16th floor. “Trellick is its own tower and I think that makes it iconic. If you build in front of it, you will destroy this beautiful horizon.”
But Kim Taylor-Smith, the councilor for the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, who was awarded the contract to build the new tower, had no choice. “It felt better to have one tall building and a lot of open space,” he explained.
Given the severe shortage of affordable housing in London and the valuable real estate occupied by the Trellicks, it is almost certain that someone will build on the site in the future. But the residents would like to have their say.
“What we want is cooperation,” said Keith Benton, 72, who has lived with his wife on the 31st floor since 2014 and helped campaign against the construction of the new tower.
Residents want to preserve the architectural features that gave Trellick a sense of community. Plans for a new building, for example, would require partial, if not complete, removal “graffiti hall of fame” manor is a free-standing Trellick-based wall that has served as a concrete canvas for street artists for over 35 years.
The wall has a deep emotional value: part of it became a memorial to the 72 people who died in 2017 in a disastrous fire at the nearby Grenfell Tower. Every June, on the anniversary of that tragedy, residents gather at the wall for a “memorial jam”.
“After Grenfell, the council promised us that if there was anything in the plans we oppose, they would go back to the drawing board,” Mr. Benton said.
Over time, Trellick has become safer and more attractive to potential buyers; There is even a full-time concierge. But the growing attraction worries residents. Many fear that the construction will only attract more developers to the surrounding area, spoiling the character of the site.
“They claimed it wasn’t, but it’s gentrification,” Mr. Benton said of the change in perception of the existing building.
Concern over proposals for new towers prompted residents to organize a “Save Trellick” campaign last fall. They shared information through social media and took turns standing at the entrance to the petition tower. In total, they collected more than 3,000 signatures and secured a meeting with local authorities at the old Chelsea City Hall in December.
Planned in the late 1960s to meet the soaring post-war demand for housing, Trellick was meant to represent a utopian future in which families could live high above the smog, with every comfort at their fingertips. Goldfinger’s design included a nursery, a corner store, a pub, a medical clinic, and even a nursing home.
Today, at 50 years old, Trellick is regarded as an icon of brutalist architecture with a striking design that connects a slender service tower with laundries, elevator shafts and a garbage chute to the main unit on every third floor with “skybridges”.
The structure allows the duplex apartments to be larger, maximizing living space and reducing noise levels in what was to become a “vertical village”. The 217 apartments are connected to each other with Escher precision, which means, according to Ms. Hexel, that “my upstairs neighbor is actually two floors above me.”
In 1998, Trellick was granted listed building status by the government, guaranteeing the tower’s preservation. “Trellick’s sinister reputation has always been exaggerated,” Ms. Hexel said, noting that “it was fashionable to give her bad reviews.”
Five years ago, local authorities demolished the Trellick Nursing Home, which was not subject to the same conservation order, claiming it lacked proper toilets.
This decision greatly upset the residents, who noted that Goldfinger was inspired by the famous Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier to create a building that meets the needs of all life.
“It was beautifully designed and people loved it,” Mr. Benton said. “Think about it: when you get old, do you want to move six miles away where no one can visit you? Or would you like to be around the people you love?”
The developers proposed to build a new tower on the site of the nursing home. Residents argued that, in addition to dividing the complex, it would lead to overcrowding, straining already limited resources.
They also stated that public consultations on the project were not carried out in a transparent manner, leaving many to feel cheated.
“It all happened during lockdown,” Ms Hexel said. “Consultations were held virtually. Many residents are old and not very tech-savvy.”
Many residents of the tower constantly fear that they may suffer the same fate as the first inhabitants of another Goldfinger tower, Balfron in East London. The area is now almost entirely privately owned as a result of property legislation passed by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government in 1980. The council emptied the tower when it was sold, promising residents the right to return, which turned out not to be the case. case.
The drive to build more homes is fueled by the UK’s housing crisis, especially in London. October 2021 approx. An estimated 250,000 people were on waiting lists. for public housing in the city. But Trellick residents say the local council’s efforts to develop the site around the tower are motivated by profit: they note that for each new public housing unit, the council receives £100,000, or about $120,000, from the Mayor of London.
In an interview, Mr. Taylor-Smith acknowledged that “we have a statutory obligation to keep the books in balance every year.”
“The only way to pay for improvements,” he said, “is to build new houses.” These improvements include customization of features that are now deprecated.
Emotions ran high at a meeting with local authorities in December. Residents argued that the new tower’s designs violated the council’s own rules that extensions to an existing estate must be only four to six stories high and must not require further demolition of buildings.
A few weeks later, the plans were withdrawn, with the council promising that any future development would be more collaborative.
But although the residents won that round, they were not satisfied.
“All we ever did was stop them for a couple of years,” Mr. Benton said. “There is no guarantee that they will not try again. We have to focus on what we want.”