Goldfinger's high point

Former resident Nick Lloyd Jones charts the ups and downs of Trellick Tower, London's trendiest block of flats
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The Independent Online

High-rise living has become increasingly chic in recent years, attracting style-conscious urbanites in search of breathtaking views. And we're not just talking luxury apartment blocks here. Right-to-buy schemes combined with tighter security and better services have also seen a significant surge in demand for privately owned flats in local authority properties. West London's Trellick Tower is a case in point. Today, it enjoys iconic status as one of the capital's trendiest addresses. But this was not always the case and, as a former long-term resident, I retain a very different memory of the place.

High-rise living has become increasingly chic in recent years, attracting style-conscious urbanites in search of breathtaking views. And we're not just talking luxury apartment blocks here. Right-to-buy schemes combined with tighter security and better services have also seen a significant surge in demand for privately owned flats in local authority properties. West London's Trellick Tower is a case in point. Today, it enjoys iconic status as one of the capital's trendiest addresses. But this was not always the case and, as a former long-term resident, I retain a very different memory of the place.

Trellick Tower is a true London landmark. Everywhere you go in Notting Hill Gate, its sinister, razor-sharp profile peeps out at you, unexpected and incongruous among the leafy squares and white-stucco houses. A monument to modernism, it was designed by the enigmatic Hungarian architect Erno Goldfinger in the late Sixties. Goldfinger, whose other London commissions included the offices of the defunct Morning Star newspaper, regarded Trellick Tower as his masterpiece. And when it opened in 1973, he briefly set up home there in a penthouse on the top floor and ran his architectural practice from offices at its base.

Goldfinger wasn't alone in his admiration for the building. On its completion, it won plaudits. One critic praised it for its "delicate sense of terror" and "brutalism" while another described it as being "Stalinist architecture as it ought to be".

Even its sternest critics - such as novelist Ian Fleming, so horrified by its style that he named his most memorable villain after its architect - could not deny that it had a certain menacing presence.

Its grey granite facade is fiercely individualistic and uncompromising, while its stand-alone service shaft tacked onto the side looks like a futuristic space rocket awaiting lift-off.

Its 219 flats - a mixture of one-, two- and three-bedrooms - are generously proportioned and exceptionally well sound-proofed, thanks largely to the fact that each of its 31 storeys occupies three levels and a good distance between neighbouring flats is maintained by alternating their access via upstairs and downstairs entry flights of stairs.

And the views from the upper floors are superb. By virtue of the building's extreme skinniness - residents have reported rocking sensations in high winds - each flat enjoys both front and rear views. Add to this the floor-to-ceiling windows, and the panoramic vistas rival any other in London. The flight paths are more or less at eye-level, while down below the smoggy Westway wriggles off towards Oxford, trains trundle in and out of Paddington Station and barges float sedately along the Grand Union Canal. And the people moving around the piazza below and along the length of the bustling Golborne Road flea market are reduced to indistinguishable specks.

Goldfinger originally intended Trellick to house families. But young mothers proved understandably uneasy when it came to letting their toddlers loose on its high-rise balconies and by the end of the Seventies, Trellick had become an inner-city sink estate. Back in those days the building was controlled by the Greater London Council (GLC). In a bid to regenerate the ailing block and attract new residents, flats became available under the GLC's hard-to-let scheme. Many original residents with children were re-housed in family-friendly accommodation, while flats in Trellick were let out to impoverished students looking for affordable places. The scheme was a great success and the block soon filled up again. The modernist flats proved a magnet for art-students among whom Goldfinger enjoyed a cult status.

Then, in the Eighties, control of the building passed to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. The security - problem was finally addressed: the intercom system was repaired, cameras were installed, and a concierge desk was set up in the lobby which was manned more or less around the clock. And residents were encouraged to buy their homes through the right-to-buy scheme. With discounts as high as 50 per cent on offer, a two-bedroom flat could be picked up for as little as £30,000. Some of the former impoverished students, now gainfully employed, began buying up, and the sense of community was reinforced.

And it was not just Trellick itself that was changing for the better. By the early Nineties, the whole area was going upmarket. Crime was being cleared up by security cameras, and chichi cafes, restaurants and design salons started springing up all along the Golborne Road. Even the local low-life boozer was rebranded as a gastro-pub.

Trellick Tower itself became a pop icon and was celebrated in song by Blur. Then, in 1998, it won the accolade of a Grade II architectural listing. In spite of its early troubled history, Trellick had made the transition from sink estate to des res.

Today, only a few of its flats are privately owned, most of them located on the higher floors. They rarely appear on the market either and, when they do, asking prices can range from £225,000 for a one-bedroom flat up to £350,000 for a three-bedroom one. But if you seriously want a piece of the high life in London's trendiest skyscraper, you may end up having to foot an additional bill. This is because plans are afoot for a refurbishment programme over the next few years. An English Heritage grant has been applied for to help cover the cost of this. But if this fails to materialise, owner-occupiers could be faced with bills of up to £30,000 per flat to cover the projected works.

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