Ernö Goldfinger’s Alexander Fleming House has recently been listed by English Heritage.
Goldfinger considered his office block and cinema complex at the Elephant and Castle, south London, built in 1959-67 as his most important work. It seals his reputation that this work has finally been listed despite its having been converted inappropriately to housing, its concrete painted white and spandrel panels blue, and the cinema having been demolished and replaced by an ungainly tower that unbalances and obscures the carefully considered composition. How much, if anything, of this can be restored time will tell.
Composed around a north-south axis, with each of the five blocks capped by what Goldfinger called a cornice, it exemplifies the classicising tendency in his work as well as the elaborate modelling of the facades with projecting bays and recessed balconies. The varied skyline exemplifies his desire always to reach out into space and to interact with space. It makes this complex a striking example of the Constructivist spirit. The elements of its construction – the post and beam of the frame – are strongly expressed on elevation and their overall and detailed proportions can be shown to be governed by the Goldern Section, which binds the whole together. Built for a speculative developer on a very unfavoured site sandwiched between busy roads and a railway and for a minimal budget, it nevertheless achieved high architectural values. Had it been listed when first nominated with the support of Lubetkin, Philip Johnson, Summerson, Lasdun and many other eminent figures 25 years ago, there would now be much more to conserve, and its present appearance would more nearly reflect Goldfinger’s intentions. The Government – which was itself the tenant for twenty five years as the Ministry of Health – is nevertheless to be congratulated on finally having taken this step.