October 3, 2022

LONDON – When Barbara Hexel and her family moved into Trillic Tower in 1981, their friends thought they were crazy. Renowned for its brutal, uncompromising design and crime in its lively concrete lanes, the London Public Housing Project, built in 1972, has achieved The tabloid nickname “Tower of Terror”.

But for the Heksels, Trellick was an opportunity. It offers a spacious two-bedroom apartment with sweeping views of West London, a great upgrade from the cramped studio where the family used to live.

“We’ll take it and make it our own,” Ms Hexel, 70, remembers telling her husband when they first saw their place.

Mrs. Hexel has lived there ever since, enjoying a home in a building that has gone from spectacle to icon. Designed by Ernö Goldfinger, a Hungarian-born architect who, As the legend says,Trellick has been so offended by Ian Fleming that he named one of Bond’s villains after him, Trellick has cult status. Its flats are cut as soon as they are inserted; Its location is near Notting Hill, one of London’s most expensive neighbourhoods.

Now, though, residents fear that Trelllick’s success has left her vulnerable. Last year, they narrowly halted construction of a 15-story tower that developers wanted to build between Trellick and the adjacent smaller complex, Edenham Way.

It’s outrageous,” said Molly Berntson O’Donnell, 26, who grew up on the 16th floor. “Trellick is a free standing 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, a member of the Royal Borough Council of Kensington and Chelsea, who contracted the new tower, there was little choice. “The feeling was that it was better to have one tall building and a lot of open space,” he explained.

Given the acute shortage of affordable housing in London and valuable properties occupied by Trellick, it is almost certain that someone will build on the site in the future. But residents want their say.

“One thing we want, is 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 quirks that gave Trellick its sense of community. Plans for the new building, for example, would have required the partial, if not total, removal of Real Estate Graffiti Hall of Fame – Freestanding wall at the base of Trelllick which has been a street artist’s concrete canvas for over 35 years.

The wall has deep sentimental value: part of it has become a memorial to the 72 people who died in 2017 in a catastrophic fire at nearby Grenfell Tower. Every June, on the anniversary of that tragedy, residents gather at the wall for a “memorial jam”.

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

Over time, Trellick became safer and more attractive to potential buyers; There is even a full time concierge. But the growing desire alarmed the population. Many fear that the construction will only attract more developers to the surrounding neighborhood, spoiling the character of the site.

“They claimed it wasn’t, but this is an improvement,” Mr. Benton said of changing perceptions of the existing building.

Concerns about the new towers’ proposals prompted residents to form a “Save Trelllick” campaign last fall. They exchanged information via social media and took turns standing at the entrance to the tower with the petitions. Finally, they collected more than 3,000 signatures and got a meeting with local government representatives at Chelsea Old Town Hall in December.

Planned in the late 1960s to meet the growing demand for post-war housing, Trelllick was meant to represent an ideal future in which families could live high above the smog, with every convenience within easy reach. Goldfinger’s design included a nursery, corner shop, pub, medical clinic, and even a nursing home.

Today, at the age of 50, Trellick is seen as an icon of Brutalist architecture, with a striking design that connects a slender service tower – housing the laundries, elevator shafts and garbage chute – to the main building on every third floor through “sky bridges”.

The structure allows the duplex apartments to be larger, increasing living space and reducing noise in what was to become a ‘vertical village’. The 217 units are nested, delicately interlocking Escher-like, which means, in the words of Mrs. Heksel, “my neighbour’s upstairs is really two stories above.”

In 1998, the government granted Trelllick status as a landmark, ensuring the tower is preserved. Trillick’s ominous reputation has always been exaggerated,” said Ms Hexel, noting that “it was fashionable to give her a bad press.”

Five years ago, the local government demolished Trellick’s nursing home, which was not under the same preservation order, arguing that it did not have adequate toilets.

This decision greatly angered residents, who noted that Goldfinger had been inspired by the famous Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier to create a building that would meet the needs of an age.

It was beautifully designed, and people loved it,” said Mr. Benton. “Think about it: When you are old, do you want to be six miles away, where no one can visit you? Or do you want to be near 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 that it would lead to overcrowding, draining already limited resources.

They also said that public consultations on the project did not take place transparently, leaving many to feel deceived.

“It all happened during lockdown,” Ms Hexel said. Consultations are done by default. Many residents are elderly and not very tech savvy.”

The constant fear among many of the tower’s residents is that they might suffer the same fate as the original residents of another Goldfinger Tower, Balfron in East London. This block is now almost wholly owned, as a result of property legislation passed by the Conservative government of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1980. Council emptied the tower when it was sold, promising residents a right of return, which proved to be not an issue.

The impetus to build more homes was driven by the housing crisis in Britain, particularly in London. In October 2021 around Estimated 250,000 on waiting lists To housing the city council. But Trellek 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 gets £100,000, or about $120,000, from the mayor of London.

In an interview, Mr. Taylor Smith acknowledged, “We have a legal obligation to make sure the books are in balance each year.”

“The only way to pay for improvements is to build new homes,” he said. These improvements include custom tweaks for features that are now outdated.

Emotion prevailed at the meeting with local government representatives in December. Residents argued that designs for the new tower violated special council guidelines, which state that additions to an existing property must be only four to six stories high and must not require further building demolition.

After a few weeks, the plans were withdrawn, and the board promised that any future development would be more of a collaboration.

But while residents won that round, they don’t rest easy.

“All we did was stop them for two years,” said Mr. Benton. “There is no guarantee that they will not try again. We have to keep focusing on what we want.”

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