Who was Ernö Goldfinger?
Born into a Hungarian Jewish family in Budapest in 1902, Ernö Goldfinger was a modernist architect and furniture designer. Along with a number of European architects, Goldfinger immigrated to England in the 1930s. Together they helped popularize the modern movement in Britain.
Goldfinger studied architecture in Paris where he was inspired by the structures of celebrated architect, Le Corbusier, in addition to manifestos like Vers une architecture that Le Corbusier contributed to the blossoming modern movement.
Goldfinger was a prominent member of the Modern Architectural Research (MARS) Group, a London-based organisation that included architects, designers, critics, and even poet John Betjeman.
Living in Hampstead, Goldfinger encountered a variety of artists, writers, and scientists. These included sculptor Henry Moore, poet Stephen Spender, and biologist Julian Huxley. However, not all of Goldfinger’s neighbours charmed him: when Ian Fleming used his name for a James Bond villain, Goldfinger threatened to sue.
After attending the 1925 Paris Exhibition, Goldfinger declared that the “new style” of architecture was “not bound to false traditions….the heirs of the Gothic Renaissance and Empire styles are the steel structures, the ferro-concrete and glass palaces.”
In addition to his aesthetic loyalties, Goldfinger was driven by Marxist convictions. In 1942, he used his self-designed house at 2 Willow Road to host an ‘Aid to Russia’ fundraising exhibition that featured a number of influential artists.
With the exception of 2 Willow Road, most of Goldfinger’s opportunities to apply his principles arose after the Second World War.
Social housing was a significant theme in his body of work. The most notable buildings were Balfron Tower and Trellick Tower in London, which he designed in the mid-1960s.
Goldfinger boasted of these buildings, “everything I did I did as if it was done for me.” Indeed, he and his wife Ursula Blackwell lived in Balfron Tower for two months. While living there, they hosted champagne parties so that residents could share what they did and did not like about the flats. Goldfinger then used this feedback when designing Trellick Tower.
When surveying tower block housing two years after Balfron Tower’s completion, John Betjeman lamented, “[W]here can be the heart that sends a family to the twentieth floor of such a slab as this?”
Despite the range of responses such buildings continue to provoke, English Heritage granted Trellick Tower Grade II listed status in 1998. Another Goldfinger project – London’s Metro Central Heights – achieved the same recognition in 2013.
These dates are just two milestones within a larger renewal of interest in British modern architecture and design.