In Brutal Presence

CompanyNicola Muirhead Photography
PhotographerNicola Muirhead
PrizeHonorable Mention
Entry Description

Trellick Tower, a 322-foot shield of high-rise council flats, stands in the midst of London's wealthiest borough, Kensington and Chelsea. Completed in 1972 by Hungarian architect, Ernő Goldfinger, this brutalist housing estate has managed to withstand the test of time and has avoided the fate of demolition that so many other brutalist high-rises have incurred. After becoming a Grade II listed building in the early 1990's through a series of fortunate trends in pop culture, Trellick Tower has been protected in the affluent fabric of Notting Hill and Ladbroke Grove, and remains 80% council flat tenants. Trellick has inadvertently become an evolving symbol as a last stance against the waves of gentrification that carelessly occur when these tower blocks become desirable properties to own and live in London. "In Brutal Presence" attempts to highlight the many contradictory realities which exist within this estate, using interviews and portraiture to narrate the story.


The tragedy at Grenfell Tower has awakened the London community to the issues surrounding social housing in the most violent way, and in a broader context, to the negative impacts of hyper-gentrification on social inequality in London. The fire of June 14th that consumed almost 80% of the tower block, should have been a self-contained incident within the concrete walls of that 1970s brutalist structure. Instead, the flames turned into a fireball, helped by the newly fitted cladding placed on the structure to “beautify” the building’s appearance for the luxury apartments near by. There is no doubt there would have been a different outcome had the council and their contractors valued the human life within these tower blocks over the profit of regeneration. In Brutal Presence is an on-going documentary project that began a year ago, photographing the residents of a neighbouring housing-estate in North Kensington called Trellick Tower. Using interviews and portraiture to narrate the story, this documentary project shares the perspectives and insights of its council flat tenants, as they reflect on living in the richest borough of London. Trellick Tower was completed in 1972 by Hungarian architect Ernő Goldfinger, a few years before Grenfell, during a time when the popularity of high-rise estates had decreased and negative stereotypes surrounding them had escalated. Trellick was often referred to as the “Tower of Terror” in the 70’s and 80’s by the media, but in reality the deterioration of the high-rise estate was due to the neglect of the council to implement security guards and adequate maintenance. However, Trellick Tower managed to avoid the fate of demolition that so many other brutalist high-rises incurred in London’s race to “revitalise” the inner-city, when it became a Grade II listed building in the 1990s for its’ unique brutalist architecture. This protected the estate from private developers and preserved the high-rise under the guidelines of the English Heritage organisation, safeguarding the tower and its council tenants from regeneration projects that would demolish the building and/or decant its’ council tenants. This tower block has inadvertently become an evolving symbol as a last stance against the waves of the negative aspects of gentrification that can carelessly occur when these estates sit in desirable property markets. In Brutal Presence will continue to investigate the realities surrounding social housing in London and the impacts of gentrification and “revitalisation” to these communities, starting with the borough of Kensington and Chelsea. It hopes to humanise these estates for outsiders, and asks us to take a critical look at why these built environments are under threat in this current social and economic climate in London. These interviews and portraits are a chance for us as outsiders to be invited in to hear their stories and proof that estates are living, breathing, communities that can fit within the gentrified fabric of the city if they are properly looked after and valued, as they were intended to be.

About Photographer

Nicola Muirhead [b. 1986] is a British-Bermudian documentary photographer and visual storyteller, with a BA in International Studies and a Minor in Conflict Resolution. Before completing her MA in Documentary Photography and Photojournalism at the London College of Communication in 2017, Nicola worked as a photojournalist for her local newspaper in Bermuda. After two years as a self-taught photographer, Nicola began to explore more in depth means of storytelling as a visual artist, creating a social-interactive community art instillation that addressed sensitive and celebrated themes within her island community through photography and multimedia. This became the ethos of her future documentary work, taking a sociological approach to communities and individuals through the medium of visual storytelling. Since then her projects have focused on rural and urban communities, as well as personal/cultural identities, and how these identities and communities are impacted and shaped by political, environmental, and socio-economic factors. They are generally long-term projects that are collaborative in nature with the subject, establishing a relationship with the people and place over time. Other works in progress explore the relationship between image and text, constructing a creative narrative in a place or community, seen through the local literature and folklore and in combination with photography. Nicola is currently based in London.