Balfron Tower was designed by architect Ernő Goldfinger and, like the nearby Robin Hood Gardens and Goldfinger's later similar but more famous Trellick Tower in west London, is associated with the Brutalist style of 1960s architecture.
Balfron Tower is 84 metres high and contains 146 homes (136 flats and 10 maisonettes). Lifts serve all entry floors (that is, every third floor); thus, to reach a flat on the 11th, 12th or 13th floors, residents or visitors would take a lift to the 12th. The lift shaft sits in a separate service tower, also containing laundry rooms and rubbish chutes, and joined to the residential tower by the seven walkways visible in the picture.
The service tower is topped by a boiler room. In 1985 the original concrete boiler flutes were replaced with metal, due to concrete decay.
Goldfinger himself was pleased with the design and moved in to flat 130, on the 26th floor, for two months in 1968 to find out what the residents liked and disliked about his design. What he learnt was applied to the design of Trellick Tower. Goldfinger also designed Carradale House and Glenkerry House, part of the same estate and complementing Balfron Tower in style. These buildings are now all part of the Balfron Tower Conservation Area, designated in 1998.
The building was given Grade II listed status in March 1996, followed by Carradale House in 2000. Carradale and Glenkerry Houses were also included in the Balfron Tower Conservation Area, designated in 1998. The listing continues to attract comment, especially in view of the failure of another nearby Brutalist estate, Robin Hood Gardens, to obtain the same protection.
In December 2007, following a ballot of residents in 2006, Tower Hamlets Council transferred its ownership of Balfron Tower, Carradale House and the surrounding Brownfield Estate to Poplar HARCA, a housing association. The association is legally committed to carry out a full refurbishment of the buildings. The architectural firm PRP which has taken up this project will be looking to restore these Brutalist structures to their original form as required by English Heritage, and also to bring the buildings up to modern specifications and 21st century living standards.
The first phase of the refurbishment started November 2011 with the lower Carradale House. The refurbishment will be technically challenging, due to the need to install new services without disturbing the listed exterior. The solid concrete design also suffers inherently from cold bridging, which will have to be remedied by internal wall insulation. Residents were to have the option to keep their flats in the block, or to move into new low-rise homes nearby, in which case the vacated flats would be sold to finance the works.
Pending these works, some flats in Balfron and Carradale are temporarily occupied by artists, who contribute to the community and put on displays in "heritage flat" number 123 Balfron Tower.
In October 2010 the residents of both blocks were sent notice that the refurbishment would require all residents to move out, with no undertaking on whether they could return.