The Twentieth Century Society

Campaigning for outstanding buildings

Alexander Flemming House, Elephant and Castle, metro central heights
Metro Centre Heights/ Alexander Fleming House. Photograph by Steve Cadman.

Elephant listed…are we normal?

Delighted that the Erno Goldfinger office building at Elephant and Castle has finally been listed.   Best of all has been the largely positive  response in the press.

The Times ran both a news piece and a leader, and strongly welcomed  Minister Ed Vaisey’s decision, on the grounds “not that [Alexander Fleming House/aka Metro Central Heights] is beautiful, which is an impossibly subjective criterion so soon after its construction, but that it is important” and it recognised the validity of one of the  arguments we make all the time viz.  “a building, once demolished, is irreplaceable”–its not just banished to the basement like an unfashionable painting.

The Guardian was pretty factual, but thought the news note worthy, and ended by telling its readers “Today, a one-bedroom flat in Metro Central Heights might set you back £300,000.” – which is certainly some kind of positive endorsement.

Sadly the Standard still doesn’t  get it, saying “Few normal people regard the concrete high-rise blocks… as architecturally aesthetic [what does that mean?]…  The tendency to list eyesores such as this is as baffling as ever”.   Maybe I’m not “normal”, but my daughter’s primary school is right near the Elephant, and the parents who’d spotted the story were all pretty pleased…maybe none of us are normal.

The Mail was also pretty scathing saying “However there is some hope for those who view  the block as a blot, rather than a treasure – listing does not protect the  building [!]. Instead, it means that listed building  consent must be applied for in order to make any changes to that building which  might affect its special interest.  Listed buildings can be altered, extended and  sometimes even demolished within government planning guidance.”…I guess that’s sad but true….  But the good bit was that the article noted that Goldfinger’s Trellick is  popular today, with residents as well as all those non-normal types. 

The Times also published this excellent  follow-up letter from our Chairman:

“Goldfinger’s last laugh.

Ed Vaizey is to be congratulated on his courage and boldness in accepting English Heritage’s advice to list Alexander Fleming House.  The need to list the best modern buildings rests on three arguments: a building once demolished is irreplaceable; listing is the only certain means of controlling demolition or alteration, and thirdly, that judgement or assessment of significance, quality and beauty will develop. Taste and understanding evolve and the Twentieth Century Society aims to protect and celebrate post 1914 buildings of all styles: from Art Deco to Post Modern.

Alexander Fleming House has been fortunate: its redevelopment as flats ensured its preservation up to the point when it could be listed. But many commercial buildings, designed to earn a return within 25 years, will simply be demolished. In some cases this may not matter, but there is a risk of losing many good buildings of the 50s and 60s unless action is taken quickly. The Government needs to follow this decision with a focussed listing of high quality 50s and 60s office buildings of a variety of styles and not wait until they are subject to “threat” (which means that plans for demolition are too far advanced). That way both developers and wider society will get the certainty they need that development can happen and that our cultural heritage is being protected.

This listing is Goldfinger’s second last laugh: his home at 2 Willow Road in Hampstead is now a popular National Trust attraction.”


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