LONDON – When Barbara Heksel and her family moved into Trellick Tower in 1981, their friends thought they were crazy. Famous for its uncompromising Brutalist design and the crime-incubating concrete halls, the London public housing project, built in 1972, earned the tabloid nickname “Tower of Terror”.
But for the Heksels, Trellick was an opportunity. It offered a large two-bedroom flat with stunning views over West London, a major upgrade from the cramped studio in which the family lived.
“We’re going to build it and do it ourselves,” Ms. Heksel, 70, recalled telling her husband when they first saw her place.
Miss Heksel has lived there ever since, enjoying a home in a building that has gone from eyesore to icon. Designed by Ernö Goldfinger, the Hungarian-born architect whose buildings, legend has it, were so offensive to Ian Fleming that he named one of his Bond villains after him, Trellick has cult status. His apartments are snapped up as soon as they are listed; its location is near Notting Hill, one of the most expensive areas of London.
Now, however, residents fear Trellick’s fortunes are in jeopardy. Last year, they narrowly stopped construction of a 15-story tower that developers wanted to build between Trellick and a smaller neighboring block, Edenham Way.
“It’s scary,” said Molly Berentson-O’Donnell, 26, who grew up on the 16th floor. “Trellick is a freestanding tower, and I think it’s iconic. If you build in front of it, you’ll destroy that great skyline.”
But for Kim Taylor-Smith, a councilor for the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, who contracted for the new tower, there was little choice. “It was felt that it was better to have one tall building and lots of open space,” he explained.
Given the shortage of affordable housing in London and the valuable real estate occupied by the Trellick, it is almost certain that someone will build on the site in the future. But residents want their say.
“There’s one thing we need, and that’s cooperation,” said Keith Benton, 72, who has lived with his wife on the 31st floor since 2014 and helped lead the campaign against the new tower project.
Residents want to preserve the architectural features that have given Trellick its sense of community. The plans for the new building, for example, would require the partial or total removal of the estate’s “graffiti hall of fame” — a free-standing wall located on the base of Treilic that was a concrete canvas for street artists. more than 35 years.
The wall has deep emotional value: Part of it is a monument to the 72 people who died in 2017 in a devastating fire at nearby Grenfell Tower. Every June, around the anniversary of that tragedy, the residents gather at the wall to hold a “memorial jam”.
“After Grenfell, the council promised us that if there was anything in the plans that was against it, they would go back to the drawing board,” said Mr Benton.
Over time, Trellick has become safer and more attractive to potential buyers; there’s even a full-time concierge. But the growing desirability has residents worried. Many fear the construction would only attract more developers to the surrounding neighborhood, destroying the character of the site.
“They claimed it wasn’t, but this is nobility,” Mr. Benton said of the change in attitude of the current building.
Concerns about the new tower proposals prompted residents to set up a “Save Trellick” campaign last fall. They shared information through social media and took turns standing at the tower entrance with petitions. All told, they collected more than 3,000 signatures and got a meeting with local government representatives at the Old Chelsea Town Hall in December.
Intended in the late 1960s to meet the growing demand for housing after the war, it was intended to represent a utopian future where families could live high above the smog, with all amenities nearby. Goldfinger’s designs included a nursery, a corner shop, a pub, a medical clinic and even a nursing home.
Today, at the age of 50, Trellick is regarded as an icon of Brutalist architecture, with a striking design that connects a thin service tower – housing laundry, lift shafts and a garbage chute – to the main block at every third floor via “sky bridges”.
The structure allows the duplex apartments to be larger, maximizing living space and reducing noise in what was meant to be a “vertical village”. The 217 units are interwoven, coming together with Escher-like precision, meaning that, in Ms. Heksel’s words, “my upstairs neighbor is actually two floors above me.”
In 1998, the government granted Trellick landmark status, guaranteeing the preservation of the tower. “Trellick’s bad reputation was always exaggerated,” Miss Heksel said, noting, “it was fashionable to give him a bad press.”
Five years ago, the local government demolished Trellick nursing home, which was not under the same conservation order, arguing that there were insufficient restrooms.
That decision greatly affected the residents, who pointed out that Goldfinger was inspired by the famous Swiss-French architect, Le Corbusier, to create a building that met the needs of life.
“It was beautifully designed, and people really liked it,” Mr Benton said. “Think about it: When you’re old, do you want to move six miles away, where no one can visit you? Or do you want to be close to the people you love?”
Developers plan to build the new tower on the site of the nursing home. In addition to the bifurcated complex, residents argued that this would lead to overcrowding, which would strain already limited resources.
They also said that public consultations on the project were not held in a transparent manner, which left many people in the dark.
“It all happened during the lockdown,” Mr Heksel said. “The consultations are almost done. Many residents are old and not very tech savvy.”
The lingering fear among many of the tower’s residents is that they could suffer the same fate as the original residents of another Goldfinger tower, the Balfron in East London. That block is now largely privately owned, as a result of property legislation passed by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government in 1980. The council vacated the tower when it was sold, promising residents the right to return. , which proved that the tower was not. case.
A housing crisis in Britain, particularly in London, fueled the drive to build more houses. In October 2021, there were estimated to be around 250,000 on waiting lists for council housing in the city. But Trellick residents say the local council’s efforts to develop the site around the tower are motivated by profit: For every new public housing unit built, they note, the council receives 100,000 pounds, or about $120,000, from mayors London.
In an interview, Mr Taylor-Smith admitted, “We have a statutory duty to make sure the books balance every year.”
“The only way to pay for improvements,” he said, “is by building new houses.” These improvements include custom adjustments to now outdated features.
Emotions were very warm at the meeting with the local government representatives in December. Residents argued that the designs for the new tower breached the council’s own guidelines, which dictate that additions to existing estates must be between four and six storeys high and that no further buildings should be demolished.
A few weeks later, the plans were withdrawn, and the council promised that any future development would be more collaborative.
But even though the residents won that round, they are not easy to rest.
“All we’ve ever done is stop them for a few years,” Mr Benton said. “There’s no guarantee they won’t try again. We have to focus on what we want.”