The Hungarian emigre architect Erno Goldfinger (1907-87) is best remembered for his brutalist tower blocks around the edges of central London, such as Trellick Tower in North Kensington, Balfron Tower in Poplar and Alexander Fleming House in Elephant and Castle. These tower blocks, so divisive when first built, are all now listed by English Heritage, and are magnets for architectural students, designers and photographers. Goldfinger also produced modernist schools in Haggerston, Shepherds Bush and and Putney. But Goldfinger has another legacy in the suburbs of London, which host some of his more uncharacteristic and lesser known works. These buildings, stretching from Hampstead through North London and out to Buckinghamshire, show a different side of Goldfingers work.
Aside from his iconic tower blocks, his most famous work is the terrace of 3 houses at Willow Road in Hampstead (1939). No. 2 was Goldfingers home with his wife Ursula Blackwell and their children, until his death in 1987. Built on the site of a row of 18th Century cottages, the terrace is constructed of reinforced concrete, with the outer walls faced with red brick. Nos. 1 and 3 are still private residences, whilst No. 2 has been taken over by the National Trust, who have preserved the interior as Erno and Ursula had it, including works by Bridget Riley, Marcel Duchamp and Henry Moore. Like Goldfingers later tower blocks, Willow Road was initially controversial, with its presence in the heart of Georgian Hampstead the subject of complaints from his new neighbours. But like Trellick and Balfron, Willow Road has become an iconic member of Goldfingers works.
Further along the Northern Line at Golders Green is one of Goldfingers more obscure buildings. No.2 Golders Green Road was originally designed in 1935 as hairdressing salon, but was converted into a shop for S. Weiss ladies clothing. Situated on a corner of the High Street, Goldfinger planned the redesign and rebuild of this site to include a curved glass second floor. Goldfinger also redesigned the interior of the shop and its fittings. This building still exists today as a bank, with the curved glass second floor still intact. Goldfinger also designed some other shops around the same time, including a toy shop in Wimpole Street, W1 and a hair salon in Grafton Street, Mayfair.
On the outskirts of London in Watford, is Hille House, probably the most recognizably Goldfinger designed building in Metro-Land. Built in 1959 for the Hille furniture company, this factory and office complex was built on the site of an old Wells brewery and workers cottages. The building is constructed using a reinforced concrete frame, with a Uxbridge brick infill. The front of the offices also features the first use of a Goldfinger signature, a cantilevered box with coloured glass. This design was used on some of Goldfingers most famous buildings like the Trellick and Balfron towers. Goldfinger also produced designs for an enlargement of the site, including a factory, boiler house and timber store, although these designs were never executed. Today this building on the St.Albans road is a business centre, but many of Goldfingers original design details are still in place.
Just outside Watford, in Abbots Langley, Goldfinger was commissioned by Watford Rural District Council to build a social housing estate. The architect originally designed a nine storey block of maisonettes, but this idea was rejected by the council and instead a modified plan of mixed terraced houses and small apartment blocks was accepted. The site was opened in 1961 by the Swedish Ambassador. As with much post war social housing in the UK, Gade View Gardens was allowed to deteriorate until it was unlivable. In 2009 the council put forward a plan to demolish the building and redevelop the site. Due to the credit crunch the redevelopment languished until last year when most of the buildings were knocked down and replaced by new flats. However there is still a row of terraced houses from the original plan intact and occupied on the Gallows Hill Road side of the site.
Out the at the edge of Metro-Land, near one of its most iconic buildings is the Red House, in Cherry Lane, Amersham. Less than 2 miles from High and Over by Amays Connell, the Red House is one of Goldfingers most conventional designs. It is built in traditional materials of brick and timber, has a tiled pitched roof and was completed in 1957. It has been refurbished by subsequent owners, but does still show Goldfingers touches in it’s use of light and space. Goldfinger also designed many rural houses around the South East of England, including a house in Broxted, Essex (1938) for painter Humphrey Waterfield, later renovated by John Winter, and Benjamins Mount (1967-9) in Windlesham, Surrey.
There are also a number of unbuilt Goldfinger projects throughout the Metro-Land region mentioned in his archives at RIBA. These include houses in Hounslow, and Oxhey and Bushey in Hertfordshire, a shop for Dunns Footwear in Watford and flats in Finchley Road. The archives also show two other much more interesting unexecuted ideas by Goldfinger. First, plans for a fun fair and restaurant on Hampstead Heath for the Festival of Britain in 1951. Goldfingers reputation was in the doldrums at this point and the only thing he got to design for the festival was a kiosk. A sketch of the fun fair, seemingly from the viewpoint of his home at Willow Road, can be seen here. Goldfinger also applied to be the chief architect and planner for the development of Stevenage New Town, a position that went to Leonard Vincent. It raises the tantalizing idea of a Goldfinger designed concrete utopia!
Now so identified with brutalist tower blocks, Goldfingers suburban buildings show another side to his craft. Ranging from private houses to commercial premises to factory and office complexes, these buildings show the range of materials and designs Goldfinger employed. Willow Road remains the only one of theses that is listed, and despite the architects reputation (or because of?) some like Gade View Gardens have been demolished. It would be a shame if more of these buildings were forgotten and destroyed as they show that Goldfinger was not just Brutalist supervillain, but an artist and craftsman of great range and subtlety.