img(height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="")

Precious mettle

Hugh Pearman

Ernö Goldfinger was an architect with a formidable reputation, both in his own lifetime and today. The tales of high-handed behaviour in the office (rages, sudden sackings and equally sudden reinstatements appeared to be the norm), plus the way his neighbour Ian Fleming borrowed his name for his eponymous Bond villain in 1959, was enough to give him a warrior aura.

He started legal action against Fleming but relented – perhaps he was secretly flattered. He was even known to throw clients out of his office if they dared to criticise his designs. And, of course, he became known for ‘Brutalism’ in the unapologetic-concrete sense. Yet visit his own house in Hampstead, built in the 1930s and now owned and run by the National Trust, and you find a delicate sensibility and art collector at work, a man who kept in pride of place the smart grey hat of Auguste Perret, poet of concrete and mentor to Le Corbusier. And then consider the people who passed through his office and went on to great things on their own account – from John Winter to Denise Scott-Brown.

Apart from the Hampstead house – one of a modernist terrace of three – other now listed Goldfinger buildings include his two great London tower blocks, Trellick in North Kensington and the earlier Balfron in Poplar, shown here as photographed for “The Balfron Project” by Simon Terrill. Recently Ed Vaizey, architecture minister, listed his former Department of Health HQ, now private apartments, in Elephant and Castle.  Much else, of course, has been demolished. So it’s great to know that the RIBA Drawings Collection has important Goldfinger holdings, and even better to learn that work conserving it is being assisted by architect John Assael.

For the sixth straight year, Assael Architecture has acted as benefactor to the RIBA through its annual award of the Assael Architecture Scholarship for £5,000. This is made to undertake curatorial work on the important Erno Goldfinger collection held by the RIBA. So it benefits both students and the Collection.

Assael, who believes more architects should support such fundraising initiatives where possible, is plainly an admirer of Goldfinger. He is also intrigued by the way architects worked in that era, with contractors needing a mere 40 drawings to construct a considerable building.

The scholarship funds are being invested in cataloguing and restoring the drawings including Trellick Tower and Goldfinger’s own house. RIBA president Angela Brady, seen here with John Assael, says: “I welcome the continued support from Assael Architecture and I hope this will spur others to join this important fundraising campaign. We need more practices to step forward and proactively support our profession.” 
Simon Terrill’s Balfron Project: