Strange how Alexander Fleming House has ceased to be a high-rise, concrete horror now that developers can make money from it

"A resistance worker who escaped from Nazi Germany just before the Second World War died when a fire raged through his studio house, an inquest heard today." I read this news story in a copy of last week's Camden New Journal. I was waiting for a deregulated London bus outside a forlorn housing estate and had picked the paper from a litter bin otherwise full of burger cartons. The death of 87-year-old Hans Aberbanell, "an antiquities expert", who worked underground with his wife from occupied Czechoslovakia helping fellow Jews to escape Hitler, did not make national news. By the end of his life, this man I do not know but like the sound of - "spirited and fascinating" according to neighbours - was frail and partially blind. He lived alone after the death of his wife. He felt the cold, and warmed his studio from the gas oven, the only source of heating, which he left on all-year round. It was the gas oven, more than a touch ironically, that did for him.

I mention this story not simply because it is sad, but because it tells us so much about our attitude towards housing. For those who have and have done nothing but eat well all their lives, a super house in Notting Hill tra la. For those who make civilisation worthwhile and worth believing in, or for those who do not understand how to make money, dismal flats.

Abernabell was undoubtedly a hero. Which is why, when he finally escaped to Britain, we shipped him off to Australia with other "aliens" (German U-boats had a field day with British ships packed to the gunwhales with "internees") for the duration of the war. Which is why, aside from the fact that he no doubt wanted to lead his own life and not to be a burden to anybody, he was killed by a gas oven in a tiny and otherwise unheated London flat. This is not the end of a pointless if poignant story.

By chance, my raucous deregulated bus took me past the Elephant and Castle in south London, where Alexander Fleming House, the former headquarters of the DHSS, is being converted into "luxury flats" (all privately developed flats are "luxurious" as if synonymously) for bright young things, many from Hong Kong and Korea, who have never had to worry about domestic heating arrangements much less needed the financial safety net offered by the social services.

Alexander Fleming House was designed by the late Erno Goldfinger, a Jewish emigre from Hungary who built extraordinary "Brutalist" local authority housing blocks (high-rise, concrete horrors to the media, sculptural masterpieces to architects and the majority of critics) that gave poor Londoners sophisticated homes to rent of a quality rarely found elsewhere in Britain in the Sixties and Seventies. There is something odd, and even galling, about the way that Alexander Fleming House has been plucked from the public realm, tarted up and flogged off to all comers. Strange, too, to see how it has ceased to be a high-rise, concrete horror now that developers and investors can make a healthy profit from it.

Meanwhile, no new council houses or flats are built. What new homes are available to the poor, old, incapable or infirm are patronising little brick boxes erected, for all the best reasons, by housing associations and other charities. For those of us who love architecture, it would be better to die in a stylish, if unheated north London studio than a banal and characterless new flat designed in some pat-on-the-head "vernacular" style with uPVC windows. This is the way Hans Abernabell appears to have died. Quite rightly, independently minded people want to be truly independent as long as they can breathe, but wouldn't it have been right and fitting if we could offer the likes of Mr Abernabell a beautifully redesigned flat at an affordable rent in a building by, say, Erno Goldfinger?

The gap in the standard of housing for the haves and the have-nots has grown over the past 18 years, while the lack of imaginative or decent new housing for the poor and the old ought to be a national scandal. The house - from the Primitive Hut of the Classical theorist's imagination, through villas by Palladio and Le Corbusier - has always been the starting point for architecture. Newly appointed ministers in a newly elected government must make it one of their top priorities and there are encouraging signs that they will. We may not live in heroic age, but we should build homes as if for heroes and not as a punishment for those who cannot afford, nor even want, "luxury" flats in "unique" developments "carved" from public buildings designed to serve those very people in danger of ending their days in old flats heated by gas ovensn

Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine