I lived on the top floor of Ernő Goldfinger’s brutalist icon, Balfron Tower for a few years and a rumour pervaded the building while I lived there. The rumour was that Goldfinger had the idea to take a street from the ground and lay it like a template onto a floor of the Tower. A street became a floor. So if you took Andrew Street from the ground, where, Mrs Smith lived next to the Singhs’ and in turn they lived next to the Folleys’. These people and their tethered neighbour relations were lifted from the street to a single floor in the Tower. Now Andrew Street became floor 21 say and still Mrs Smith lived next to the Singhs’ and in turn they lived next to the Folleys’. The thing is, because of the design of the interior of the tower, the chains of connection no longer simply went left and right as they did on the ground. They were not laid 1:1 like in Borges’11 tale, well in appearance yes but in truth not quite. Goldfinger left the surface image of the building intact but he folded the unseen meta-structure inside. In essence he sort of, hacked the expected code within the building machine.
On each floor you would have three doors next to each other and then a break and then three more doors then a break etc. What allowed the doors to be so close together architecturally was that one apartment would go straight ahead and each of the other two doors would lead to a hidden turn back stairwell that would either go above or below it (causing the lift to only need to stop at every third floor). The horizontal relationship or logic of street presented by the three side-by- side doors therefore broke into an unseen but very experiential and unexpected verticality.
So, the people who were your neighbours at the door were not the same people who shared the corresponding walls of your living spaces. And this I’ve got to say, this did foster a strange and dislocating but fluid sense of association to the people you lived next to or more pointedly, whom you thought you lived next to. The ones you might hear through the walls were most likely the faces you would never see.
In this way, the expectation of the building’s gridded armature and structured relations gave way, through it’s internal design, to an experienced perception of flux at its’ core. It’s possible that Goldfinger himself was simultaneously in his idealistic expression of neighbourly transposition, perhaps even quite intentionally, breaking his own ‘lifting of the street myth’. Sometimes I have the feeling that buildings can narrow down in relations and movement towards the apartments but in the case of the Balfron Tower the front doors (an interfacing object typically used as a restrictor) actually became more of a curtain, which lead to a participation in the opening up of the building’s interior. What I’m getting at is, perhaps we’re meant to conceptually swim behind the doorways of the Balfron Tower in the fluidity that the disruption affords – thus the building becomes a propositional platform to explore Goldfingers’ modifications to linear sociability. And this same desire to celebrate movement, perhaps this can be found in the aqua-tiled, pool-esk Lichthöfe of Bofill’s Walden 7 and also in the potential for pleasure of shared experience, which feels present in David Hockney’s pool paintings - with Hockney’s fixation on the pool becoming the gleaming metaphor of an apparatus, which facilitates interaction and a sociable delight. (Paul Knight)