Balfron 2.0: how Goldfinger's utopian tower became luxury flats

The selloff of Erno Goldfinger’s landmark building in Poplar is a central element of a new plan to transform London’s East End

“Have you ever read JG Ballard?” asks Ali Sadler.

For three years in the 1970s Sadler, then a trainee nurse, lived at No 84 in Balfron Tower, the landmark concrete skyscraper in east London. Designed by Erno Goldfinger and opened in 1968, when local authorities still built council housing in earnest, Balfron arrived on the crest of a wave of high-rise developments. Towers were seen as the ideal solution to the problem of how to house people well in dense urban centres.

Ian Fleming hated Goldfinger so much that he named a Bond villain after him

Living spaces in Balfron Tower: left, as originally conceived, and right in the remodelled version. Photographs: courtesy of the Goldfinger family/Londonewcastle

A dining area available to new residents for larger-scale entertaining, created in a space that was once the tower’s boiler room. Photograph: Londonewcastle

Erno Goldfinger and his wife Ursula on the balcony of their flat in Balfron Tower. Photograph: Keystone/Getty Images

In 1969, Terence Bendixson wrote of Balfron tower that it was ‘perversely beautiful’ but ‘conjures up thoughts of prisons and pill-boxes’. Photograph: Riba Collections

We couldn’t stop Balfron Tower from being privatised ... In fact we probably helped it along, by turning brutalism into a coffee-table fetish object

The sale of Balfron provided Harca with money for more social housing and upgrades to public space in the area. Photograph: Sam Mellish/In Pictures via Getty Images

Balfron Tower was listed in 1998.

Tower Hamlets has always prided itself on being diverse and inclusive. Might I suggest that social cleansing in this way is the antithesis of that?

Chrisp Street market still has its characteristic pie and mash shops, but residents wonder if they survive the area’s regeneration. Photograph: Simon Balson/Alamy

The Chrisp Street Market as it currently is; newer elements such as a Haitian cafe have been incorporated already, but the regeneration project will mean wider changes. Photograph: Pat Tuson/Alamy

The proximity of Canary Wharf to Balfron Tower is a selling point for the new development. Photograph: Ben Pipe Photography/Getty Images

Related: 'Delicate sense of terror': what does concrete do to our mental health?

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