Published in City A.M., October 2019
Since it opened in 1967, the 26-storey Balfron Tower in Poplar has gone full-circle.
The concrete behemoth was initially considered the masterpiece of modernist architect Erno Goldfinger, who even took a flat there himself. By the 1980s, it had become a symbol of urban deprivation, featuring in films such as the post-apocalyptic thriller 28 Days Later. But today, the grade II* listed property is once again revered by architecture lovers as a classic example of the Brutalist style.
It is these urban, well-to-do design aficionados that Poplar Harca and Londonewcastle, who have just carried out a high-end refurbishment and modernisation of the once council-owned tower, will be trying to attract as buyers for the 146 flats.
The developers have just launched two show apartments within the Balfron, created by Ab Rogers Design and 2LG Studio respectively. Both saw an opportunity to play on the building’s harsh, concrete exterior and reference its mid-century heritage, while also adding contemporary twists.
Working in partnership with Blue Farrier, the former creative director at fashion label Issa, Ab Rogers designed its flat for a fictional occupant named Ursula Kim. According to founder Ab Rogers, Ursula “loves film and vinyls, and collects old objects.” He says she is also meticulous about her home and a fan of vintage design – hence the use of raw materials to evoke “Brutalism in its true meaning.”
The firm retained the red bathroom ceiling from Goldfinger’s original design, and used period furniture in shades of green, yellow and blue. “We felt we were in dialogue with the ghost of Goldfinger,” Rogers says. “It was an extraordinary honour.” It also recycled materials from the construction site to create an aluminium side table and planter base, a glass table and felt headboard.
The 2LG apartment also borrows heavily from the Brutalist exterior of the Balfron, incorporating concrete, aluminium and jesmonite but softening this with lilac and mint accents. They created chairs in a speckled, stone-coloured fabric that looks like concrete, as well as a series of photographs, a wallpaper and soft furnishings inspired by the Balfron exterior, which are available to buy.
“Obviously the Brutalism of the building itself was a huge inspiration,” says Russell Whitehead of 2LG Studio. “We wanted to do a retro-futurist take on the Balfron.”
Most of the pieces are bespoke, but the bed with its cushioned lilac headboard – one of the highlights of the show flat – is a tweaked version of one that they produced as part of their collaboration with online luxury furniture retailer Love Your Home.
By fusing grit and glamour, both designers have created quirky, modern apartments worthy of any Ursula Kim.