UCL Urban Laboratory


Make Public: Performing public housing in Ernö Goldfinger's Balfron Tower

05 December 2016, 1:00 pm–2:00 pm

Balfron Tower - Dr David Roberts

Event Information

Open to



Room G02, 140 Hampstead Road, London NW1 2BX

Dr David Roberts - Situating Architecture Lecture Series

In this talk I explore the past and future of Balfron Tower, a 1965-7 Brutalist high-rise in east London designed by Ernö Goldfinger and facing refurbishment and privatisation in 2016. I draw on performance in three ways; as a mode of analysis to interrogate cultural, academic and archival material; a method of engagement to build collective knowledge with residents through performative workshops; and a means of activism to draw on this material and evidence to campaign for Balfron Tower to remain a beacon for social housing.

The rallying cry, to 'make public', expresses three aims; materially - to protect public housing provision at a time when austerity measures are dismantling it in ideal and form; procedurally - to make visible problematic processes of urban change that are increasingly hidden from public view; and methodologically - to make public the act of research through intimate and sustained collaboration with the estate's residents on site. Through this collaborative work with Balfron's residents and tireless local campaign groups, I advance an argument that the practice and guidance of heritage of post-war housing estates must not only pay tribute to the egalitarian principles at their foundations, it must enact them.

David Roberts is Architectural History and Theory Tutor and Research Ethics Fellow at the Bartlett School of Architecture. Alongside his work at UCL, he is part of collaborative art practice Fugitive Images and of architecture collective Involve. He uses poetry and performance to explore the relation between people and place. His research, art and cultural activist practice engages community groups whose homes and livelihoods are under threat from urban policy. He co-wrote and co-produced the documentary/fiction film, Estate, a Reverie; co-curated the exhibition Real Estates around issues of spatial justice; and co-coordinated the successful campaign to list Balfron Tower at Grade II*.

Image: Balfron Tower, Rowlett Street, 1971. RIBA Library Photographs Collection.