Tolworth Tower is a rather out of scale bookcase-proportioned office and retail block located on the A3 at the southern extreme of one of London's forgotten outlying areas. It's also a supreme example of the power of modernist architecture to inspire and shock in equal measure.
Designed in the early 1960s by George Marsh from Richard Seifert Achitects (the company responsible for, amongst other buildings, London's Centre Point) it is very much a product of the era in which it was designed -- or even the decade before, bearing strong similarities to a generic piece of 1950s furniture, and finding influence in Gio Ponti or Charles and Ray Eames. Its 22 storeys hang from the top down on large side straddling concrete legs which travel up its narrow flanks tapering like runways to the top floors. The large angled feet attempt to recreate the lower level's 'off-the-ground' capabilities of the pilotis of nearby Alton Estate, but Tolworth Tower is not celebrated or loved like that housing project.
In recent years the tower has fallen into disuse, then becoming partly occupied in its lower regions by both Marks and Spencer, and Travelodge. Even following their branding and clean-up, it looks like a neglected giant with no sense of purpose. With over fifty years since its construction it is now hard to see how it ever enhanced the area in any way. It does seem as if no one really knew how to make the best use of Tolworth Tower.
In 2016 plans were approved to add four residential towers behind the main tower along the Tolworth Broadway road. Although cited as a major improvement for the local economy, the new structures will disrupt the clean horizontal and vertical lines of the existing buildings along at least one axis, diluting their elegant and encapsulated aesthetic appeal; their sole reason for being. It can be hoped that the time and effort put into this redevelopment with its proposed surrounding landscaping will at least give the Tower a foot in the 21st Century, if not an assured place as a protected example of post war architecture.
At the time of writing, it remains to be seen what exactly will happen to Tolworth Tower.
photograph and text by Piero Serra