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The Midas Touch of Hungarian-Jewish architect Ernö Goldfinger

By Benjamin Ivry

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Long derided as a creator of “Brutalist” architecture, the Budapest-born Ernö Goldfinger in 1902 has more recently won respect and even admiration, as two London local councils opted in November 2009 to preserve the low-lying buildings which he designed near his landmark high-rise social housing Trellick Tower itself now a “listed building” of special significance.

Nicknamed “Goldfinger’s Babies,” these concrete blocks inspire new affection among some of today’s Londoners, who see them as gritty, permanently uncutesy appendages to the now-gentrified Notting Hill neighborhood. As Nigel Warburton’s charming 2003 biography “Ernö Goldfinger: The Life of an Architect” (Routledge) recounts, Goldfinger was a wealthy, hotheaded Marxist who rubbed many people the wrong way. The spy novelist Ian Fleming felt the name was suitable for a villain, and in 1959 duly baptized his arch-nogoodnik Auric Goldfinger after the architect.

In the 1930s, when Ernö Goldfinger demolished some London mews houses in the 1930s to build his own home, now a National Trust museum, (http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-2willowroad), he irritated some anti-modernists, but Warburton asserts that Fleming was not among them. Whatever the motivation, the 1964 film “Goldfinger’s” theme song, co-written by the Jewish singer-songwriter Anthony Newley, who recorded an aptly creepy demo version, still echoes in everyone’s ears. Newley was replaced on the film’s soundtrack by Shirley Bassey whose endless performances of the song over 45 years have grown into Wagnerian-scale production numbers.

Goldfinger himself would soon be awakened by drunken crank callers roaring out the catchy Bond song, and this peculiar form of British pub humor continues to interrupt the sleep of his descendants who happen to be listed in the phone directory. The two Goldfingers, fictional and architectural, are inextricably intertwined, as a witty design by London artist Dean Zeus Colman, known as Zeus indicates; for London’s 2009 Portobello Film Festival, Zeus sculpted the awards in the shape of the Trellick Tower, painted in gold. Elsewhere shaped into bookends as souvenirs or used as the backdrop of music videos, the Trellick Tower may be brutalist, these British fans seem to say, but it’s our brutalism.

Watch a brief animated view of Goldfinger’s Trellick Tower below.

Watch a 2008 home video below, that shows the sometimes lamentable quality of Trellick Tower’s maintenance.


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