Trust launches 'delicate' modernist mission: David Nicholson-Lord reports on a race against time to buy the London home of the pioneering architect Erno Goldfinger

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The Independent Online
The National Trust is to embark on the delicate task of persuading its members to pay for a building many of them would go to lengths to avoid.

The trust yesterday launched an appeal for pounds 484,000 to preserve the London home of Erno Goldfinger, the Hungarian-born modernist architect who was one of the pioneers of the International style. If it cannot meet a November deadline, the house and contents - ranging from works of art by Henry Moore and Max Ernst to Bakelite telephones and prototype chrome and plywood chairs - will be split up to pay death duties.

The Goldfinger home, designed by the architect, is the trust's first significant venture into modernism and has already produced accusations that it is 'going concrete'. Martin Drury, its assistant director-general, yesterday conceded that it would need 'a great deal of explaining to those who have supported us in the past'. However, the house has already become a centre of pilgrimage for architecture students and the trust believes that its younger, architecturally aware members - 200,000 out of a total 2.1 million - will support the move.

Mr Drury said the house, which has been offered to the trust by the Goldfinger family in lieu of tax, was a 'truly fleeting' opportunity to acquire a 'window on the cultural life of the twentieth century. There are more influential buildings from the modern movement in London, but none has survived intact with its contents. It may well be that in 10 years' time we shall be interested in houses built in the 1970s and 1980s.'

Goldfinger, probably best remembered for the Department of Health office block at Elephant and Castle, south London, designed 2 Willow Road in Hampstead, north-west London - a Grade II listed building - and most of its contents, in 1938. Until his widow's death last year, he and his family occupied it continuously. To build it, four eighteenth-century cottages were knocked down, to the fury of residents, conservationists and, almost certainly, National Trust members.

Michael Goldfinger, the architect's youngest son, yesterday discounted tales that the novelist Ian Fleming was among the protesters and named his chief villain after the desecrator. Built out of concrete on four floors, the house is crammed with artefacts from Goldfinger's life, work and friends - from the paintings of his wife, Ursula Blackwell, to the grey felt hat of Erno's master, Auguste Perret, pioneer of reinforced concrete. Inside there is ammunition for friends and enemies of modernism.

Edward Diestelkamp, one of the trust's historical building specialists, enthuses about light, space, primary colours and functional columns. But light switches are well camouflaged, loo handles protrude out of nearby walls and once you close the French doors on the balcony you can't get back in again - there are no handles on the outside.

There are also intriguing clues to the psychology of modernism. Where most people have paper clips on their desk, Goldfinger kept 4in bolts. Journals referring to his work are marked with a red sticker on the back. And the architect evidently applied the same austere logic to his private life as to his buildings: one among dozens of box files is marked: 'EG's parents and family holidays pre- 1914, family homes etc, AND LISTS'.

The National Heritage Memorial Fund has offered pounds 200,000 towards the pounds 784,000 cost and the trust will pay another pounds 100,000 out of its legacy income.

(Photograph omitted)