The Balfron Tower: a tale of gentrificiation

Balfron Tower image

Brutalist Balfron: Photo by Claire Crofton and Lærke Sødring Nielsen

As the weather gets warmer, so does the debate surrounding the brutalist Balfron Tower.

The listed building is due a makeover, and permanent residents are being ‘decanted’ before works begin.

Meanwhile, a housing scheme run by the Bow Arts Trust offers artists temporary residence in the emptied flats until renovation starts.

Many have applauded the scheme for making use of emptied homes and providing artistic opportunities but others say this project bears all the hallmarks of gentrification – an issue close to the hearts of many in east London’s boroughs.

East London Lines heard from one unhappy resident about his thoughts of the Balfron Tower area:

East London Lines also learned of one resident who barricaded himself into his flat in protest – further highlighting the strong negative feelings towards the project.



The flat of one resident refusing to leave. Photo by Claire Crofton

Barricaded in: The flat of one resident refusing to leave. Photo by Claire Crofton


The History of the Balfron

The tower was originally built as council-housing, but in 2007 ownership was transferred from Tower Hamlets Council to Poplar Housing and Regeneration Community Association (Poplar HARCA).

Poplar HARCA is currently working with PRP architecture and English Heritage to restore the grade two listed building.

Renovations are estimated to cost up to £100,000 per flat and the refurbished flats will then be sold off privately.

Some have supported the decision, making the point that the money made from sales will be reinvested into social housing.

But others feel that this is another  case of social cleansing in Tower Hamlets.

East London Lines invited Poplar HARCA to comment, but they declined.

Balfron Tower sign: photo by Claire Crofton

Brutalist Rustic: Photo by Claire Crofton

A pattern of gentrification in East London?

The debate about the Balfron Tower echoes wider discussions about the gentrification of parts of the east of the capital and the 2012 debate about the Olympic regeneration project.

It was suggested that council tenants were being removed from East London in a an attempt to change the face of the area.

The role of artists has been called into question too as many people have claimed that high prices and the ousting of poorer communities often follows the presence of artists in an area.

Many consider this to be the imminent fate of the Balfron Tower.

What does the artist in residence think?

East London lines went to speak to Simon Terrill about the issue.  As the official Artist in Residence at the Balfrom Tower, Simon is perfectly positioned to posit an opinion on the matter.

He exhibits his work in the building’s gallery which is part of the Bow Arts Trust – with themes of concrete, brutalism and human interaction with man-made environments permeating his portfolio.

He uses large telephoto lenses and cinematic lighting to capture the spirit of the Balfron Tower during this transitional period.

East London Lines asked Simon about his work, his feelings about the tower and what he thought about the refurbishment of the building:  

The Interview

Simon Terrill discusses what drew him to the Balfron Tower as a project:

Simon Terrill tells us his journey to becoming the artist in residence and how his work relates to the tower:

Simon Terrill offers East London Lines his opinion on the role of artists in the gentrification project:

Balfron Tower’s artist in residence, Simon Terrill, compares Brutalist architecture in Britain in relation to the Australian scene:

Simon Terrill offers us an insight into what, for him, makes Balfron Tower architecturally special:

Simon Terrill summarises the reactions of residents to being notified of their eviction:

Interview by Claire Crofton and Laerke Sodring Nielsen.

To see Simon’s work, visit his website


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