May 30, 2023

LONDON — When Barbara Heksel and her family moved into Trellick Tower in 1981, their friends thought they were crazy. Known for its uncompromising brutalist design and crime on its concrete corridors, the London public housing project, built in 1972, had won the tabloid nickname “Tower of Terror”.

But for the Heksels, Trellick was an opportunity. It offered a spacious two-bedroom flat with stunning views over West London, a major upgrade from the cramped studio where the family lived.

“We’re going to take it and make it ours,” Mrs. Hecksel, 70, recalled telling her husband when they first saw their place.

Ms. Heksel has lived there ever since, enjoying a home in a building that has been transformed from sight to picture. Designed by Ernö Goldfinger, the Hungarian-born architect whose buildings, as the legend says, so offended Ian Fleming that he named one of his Bond villains after him, Trellick enjoys a cult following. Its apartments are bought as soon as they are listed. Its location is close to Notting Hill, one of the most expensive districts of London.

But now residents fear Trellick’s success has left it vulnerable. Last year, they narrowly stopped a 15-storey tower block that developers wanted to build between Trellick and a smaller neighboring block, Edenham Way.

“It’s outrageous,” said Molly Berentson-O’Donnell, 26, who grew up on the 16th floor. “Trellick is a standalone tower and I think that makes it iconic. If you build in front of it, you will destroy this wonderful skyline.”

But for Kim Taylor-Smith, the councilor for the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, who signed a contract for the new tower, there weren’t many options. “The feeling was that it was better to have a tall building and a lot of open space,” he explained.

Given the dire shortage of affordable housing in London and the valuable real estate that Trellick occupies, it is almost certain that someone will build on the site in the future. But residents would like their opinion.

“There’s one thing we want, and that’s cooperation,” said Keith Benton, 72, who has lived with his wife on the 31st floor since 2014 and who helped lead the campaign against the new tower project.

Residents want to preserve the architectural quirks that have given Trellick its sense of community. Plans for the new building, for example, would require its partial, if not total, removal the “graffiti” of the estate — a freestanding wall located at the base of Trellick, which has been a concrete canvas for street artists for over 35 years.

The wall has deep sentimental value: A section of it has become a memorial to the 72 people who lost their lives in 2017 in a devastating fire at nearby Grenfell Tower. Every June, around the anniversary of that tragedy, residents gather at the wall to make a “jam memorial”.

“After Grenfell, the council promised us that if there was anything in the plans they objected to, they would go back to the drawing board,” Mr Benton said.

Over time, Trellick became safer and more attractive to prospective buyers. there is even a full-time doorman. But the growing desire has residents worried. Many fear the construction will attract more developers to the surrounding neighborhood, altering the character of the site.

“They claimed it wasn’t, but that’s gentrification,” Mr. Benton said of the changing perceptions of the existing building.

Concerns about proposals for new towers prompted residents to form a ‘Save Trellick’ campaign last autumn. They shared information through social media and took turns standing at the entrance of the tower with requests. In total, they collected more than 3,000 signatures and secured a meeting with local government representatives at Chelsea Old Town Hall in December.

Designed in the late 1960s to meet the growing post-war demand for housing, Trellick was supposed to represent a utopian future in which families could live high above the smog, with every convenience close at hand. Goldfinger’s design included a kindergarten, a corner store, a pub, a medical clinic and even a nursing home.

Today, at 50, Trellick is regarded as an icon of Brutalist architecture, with a striking design that connects a slender service tower – housing laundry facilities, lift shafts and a waste chute – to the central block on every third floor with ‘sky bridges’.

The structure allows the two-story apartments to be larger, maximizing living space and reducing noise in what was to be a “vertical village.” The 217 units are dovetailed, interlocking with Escher-like precision, meaning, in Ms. Heksel’s words, that “my upstairs neighbor is really two floors above me.”

In 1998, the government granted Trellick landmark status, ensuring the tower would be preserved. “Trellick’s awful reputation was always exaggerated,” Ms. Hecksel 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 maintenance order, on the grounds that it did not have adequate toilets.

This decision greatly upset the residents, who pointed out that Goldfinger had been inspired by the famous Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier to create a building that met the needs of a lifetime.

“It was beautifully designed and people loved it,” Mr Benton said. “Think about it: When you get old, do you want to go six miles away, where no one can visit you? Or would you like to be close to the people you love?’

The developers proposed to build the new tower on the site of the nursing home. In addition to dividing the complex, residents argued it would lead to overcrowding, straining already limited resources.

They also said public consultations on the project were not conducted transparently, leaving many feeling hoodwinked.

“Everything happened during the lockdown,” Ms Heksel said. “The consultations took place virtually. Many residents are elderly and not very tech savvy.”

The fear among many of the tower’s residents is that they could suffer the same fate as the original residents of another Goldfinger tower, Balfron in East London. This block is now almost entirely privately owned, 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 turned out not to be the case. case.

The drive to build more homes has been fueled by a housing crisis in Britain, particularly in London. In October 2021, approx An estimated 250,000 were on waiting lists for municipal housing in the city. But Trellick residents say the local council’s efforts to develop the site around the tower are profit-motivated: For every new public housing unit built, they note, the council gets 100,000 pounds, or about $120,000, from the mayor of London. .

In an interview, Mr. Taylor-Smith acknowledged that, “We have a legal obligation to make sure the books balance every year.”

“The only way to pay for improvements,” he said, “is to build new housing.” These improvements include custom adjustments to features that are now obsolete.

Emotions ran high at the meeting with local government representatives in December. Residents argued the plans for the new tower breached the council’s own guidelines, which stipulated that additions to an existing estate should be only four to six storeys high and should 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 of a partnership.

But while the residents won this round, they are not at peace.

“All we’ve done is stop them for a few years,” Mr Benton said. “There’s no guarantee they won’t try again. We have to stay focused on what we want.”

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