Concrete, Communism and Council Housing. Lubetkin, Goldfinger and High-rise building

Nicholas Russell

South West
Notice Period:
Regular (more than one month's notice)
Retired Professional
19th November 2023

Mid-20th century council tower blocks are not well liked. Too many were badly built and become ghettos for dysfunctional families. But when high-rise, concrete tower blocks began to be built after the last World War, the best were well-designed, well-built and good to live in. With their decline, blame has been unfairly apportioned to the architects who designed them. Two of those architects were the Jewish emigrés, Berthold Lubetkin and Ernö Goldfinger. Famous in their day, their reputations have collapsed along with that of their buildings. This is unfair. Much of their work has stood the test of time and domestic tower blocks remain an essential component of the modern housing mix. This talk considers Lubetkin, Goldfinger, their lives, their socialist vision, and the ongoing life of their buildings.

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About Nicholas Russell

My working life was spent in colleges and universities. I was a bit of an academic tourist, hopping between applied biology, the history of science and technology and science communication. I also undertook curriculum development in vocational science for the Nuffield Foundation and wrote features in the educational and scientific trade press, and for national newspapers. My final post was Head of the small Humanities Department at Imperial College London.

In retirement i have been an active volunteer in heritage organisations, including for the National Trust at the architect Ernö Goldfinger's house in Hampstead and at Dyrham Park near Bath, at the Blenheim Palace sawmill at Combe near Woodstock in Oxfordshire, and at the American Museum and Gardens at Claverton Manor, just outside Bath.

I have used one of these volunteer roles as a basis for the book, 'Lubetkin and Goldfinger, The Rise and Fall of British High-Rise Council Housing' (2023) and the fact that my father, William Russell, was the designer and inventor at the firm of Russell Hobbs in the history/memoir, 'Household Names, Russell Hobbs and the Automatic Kettle, A Story of Invention and Design' (2021). These topics form the basis of two of my
talks, while others arise from contributions to other projects. More information can be found on my website,

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