Brunel Estate

Overview

Heritage Category:
Park and Garden
Grade:
II
List Entry Number:
1468695
Date first listed:
18-Aug-2020
Statutory Address:
Westbourne Park Road, London, W2

Map

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Location

Statutory Address:
Westbourne Park Road, London, W2

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County:
Greater London Authority
District:
City of Westminster (London Borough)
Parish:
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:
TQ2515081623

Summary

A public open space, forming part of a housing estate, designed by Michael Brown in 1970 and realised in 1973-1974 for the City of Westminster, whose own architectural team designed the housing in 1965, built in 1970-1974. The later family centre in the eastern corner of the site, and the brick wall which surrounds it, are not included in the registration.

Reasons for Designation

The Brunel Estate landscape, designed by Michael Brown in 1970 and realised in 1973-1974, is registered at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

Historic interest:

* as a near-complete example of an early-1970s urban housing estate landscape, designed by a professional landscape architect, exemplifying trends towards more informal landscaping, providing space and privacy, with areas for repose and for play.

Design interest:

* Designer: an excellent example of the mature work of Michael Brown, one of the leading landscape architects of the 1960s and 1970s; * Features: the structured landscape, with undulating grassed areas shored up by canted brick walls, and separated by serpentine brick paths, is characteristic of Brown’s work, whilst his considered placement of trees lends dignity and scale; * the inclusion of areas for reflection and for play is particularly well achieved, with the surviving sunken playground, also using earth mounding and brick, demonstrating the integrity of Brown’s approach.

Survival:

* the landscape is little altered from Brown’s original designs, with the site retaining one of its play areas intact.

Group value: * with the unlisted buildings around which the landscape was designed, and with the contemporary slide structure, which is being recommended for listing at Grade II.

History

The area of Westbourne Green had only a few large villas until the Great Western Railway was cut through it in 1836. Depots and sidings for Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s railway were laid out ahead of a general development with housing from the 1850s. While the land north of the railway line rapidly became a slum, that to the south remained prosperous into the C20. After 1918, however, the very substantial properties south of the railway began to be subdivided into flats; the notorious speculator Peter Rachman made his dubious reputation in nearby St Stephen’s Gardens. The area also suffered from a shortage of open space.

The Brunel Estate was designed from 1965 by the City of Westminster Architect’s Department, led by FG West, formerly of the London County Council. The site was Mileage Yard, derelict railway sidings, so was a means of reducing overcrowding in nearby properties without any dwellings having to be demolished – a big plus for a housing scheme in the 1960s. The scheme was approved by the City Council in 1969, and built in 1970-1974, with the first blocks completed in 1971. They were given the names of places associated with the Great Western Railway (apart from Sunderland House), and provided a total of 418 dwellings.

The estate landscape was created as the housing was being built; its designer, Michael Brown, produced a plan in about 1970, which was realised in 1973-1974. A site in the eastern corner was left empty for a nursery, built somewhat later (now a ‘family centre’); this area is not included in the registration. Today the landscape remains very much as originally designed, with some modifications, and is admired in The Buildings of England as ‘bold landscaping in an effort to mitigate the lumpish forms of the buildings’. The architect Cecil Handisyde singled out the estate’s provision for play, commenting that ‘delightful shapes can be produced in brick for adventurous play by children, as Michael Brown’s playground in Paddington, London, shows’, and the Brunel Estate won a Brick Industry Certificate of Merit for its hard landscape in 1974; it was noted that the overall effect might have been more convincing had the same bricks had been used for the landscaping and buildings.

Michael Brown (1922-1996) was born in Scotland and studied architecture at Edinburgh University. After working for the London County Council he was offered a scholarship in 1955 to study landscape design at the University of Pennsylvania under Ian McHarg, whose pioneering ecological approach to landscape design and use of levels greatly influenced Brown's work; Brown also spent time working for Dan Kiley, regarded as the father of modern landscape architecture in the United States. Returning to London, Brown worked for Eric Lyons, but set up his own practice from his home in 1962, specialising in landscape design for housing. Besides the Brunel Estate, his independent commissions included Beavers Farm, Hounslow; the Grahame Park Estate for the Greater London Council on the site of Hendon Aerodrome; Euston Square Gardens and the landscape plan for Redditch new town (from 1964), where ecology was a guiding principle. Earth mounding, the use of native species, brick pathways and the preservation of natural watercourses were features of his work. He first planned his modified contours using a sandpit in the office and sloping brick embankments became something of a trademark, as seen at the Brunel Estate. Semi-mature trees were becoming available for planting at this time, though few designers specified them as Michael Brown did, particularly for projects where vandalism was likely to be high. In the early 1970s Brown’s practice was one of the largest in the country. However with the decline of public housing he opened his own conference and field study centre to study issues such as sustainability, Yoga, Buddhism and landscape design, eventually dissolving his practice in 1981. He viewed the commercialism of the 1980s as being out of sympathy with his way of working and produced relatively little in these years, although his landscape for the headquarters of Redland Brick at Horsham won the Brick Development Association Award in 1987.



Details

A public open space, forming part of a housing estate, designed by Michael Brown in 1970 and realised in 1973-1974 for the City of Westminster, whose own architectural team designed the housing in 1965, built in 1970-1974. The contractor was Gilbert Ash Ltd. The later family centre in the eastern corner of the site, and the brick wall which surrounds it, are not included in the registration.

LOCATION, SETTING, LANDFORM, BOUNDARIES, AREA The Brunel Estate is situated to the west of Paddington Station, on the site of railway sidings to the south of the main railway line close to Westbourne Park Station. The triangular site of ten acres (four hectares) is bounded to the west by Great Western Road, with low-rise post-war housing at this point, and to the south by a Victorian terrace on Westbourne Park Road with ground-floor shops and a pub, and a former National School to the east. The estate’s long slabs of housing largely shield the internal landscaped area from the busy roads, and a high fence of concrete panels hides the railway.

ENTRANCES AND APPROACHES The main approach is from Westbourne Park Road, where the grounds open out to either side of Keyham House, the boundary being defined by the transition to brick paving, and by gently rising brick embankments. To the east there is vehicular access under a bridge between Mickleton and Moulsford Houses. There are small entrances under Dainton House off Great Western Road. A driveway to the east side leads to a little car park next to the children’s playground at the north-east corner of the site.

PRINCIPAL BUILDINGS The Brunel Estate consists of blocks of varying size and configuration, set in a linear arrangement along the western and southern borders of the estate, and enclosing the main landscaped area in a staggered formation to the north and east. The blocks are of traditional in-situ construction, using dark brown brick, and provide a total of 418 dwellings. A single twenty-storey tower, Keyham House, stands to the south. Thirteen 7-storey blocks – a mix of long slabs alternating with smaller blocks of flats – make up the majority of the housing. Two terraces of houses figure prominently on the north and south sides of the main landscaped area, Sapperton and Landor houses. To the east, away from the landscaping, are two lower blocks of flats, Moulsford and Polperro houses. Because there are lifts only in the smaller blocks and not the slabs, the estate is still linked by high-level concrete walkways, now a rarity.

LANDSCAPE The unifying feature of the landscape is the banking of clay soils into mounds, creating raised undulating grassed areas, supported by canted red-brick walls of graduated height, through which lead serpentine paths of the same red engineering brick. Granite setts are used for parking areas, and low walls within the landscape are constructed of the dark brick used for the buildings. The trees – notably Platanus x hispanica (London plane), Robinia pseudoacacia, and Aesculus hippocastanum (horse chestnut) – provide informal definition. Semi-mature at the time of planting, the trees are now stately, and greatly contribute to the effect of the landscape. Areas of lower planting include Chamaerops humilis, Fatsia japonica, and Choisya ternate. The main landscaped area is in the south-western part of the site, with a large central raised grassed area planted with trees, a toddlers’ play area towards the north and a sunken brick-paved sitting area to the east. The sitting area is characterised by subtle complexity of levels, with terraced banks to the west, shallow steps in two stages to the north, and a ramp to the east. Four Quercus petaea (sessile oaks) are planted in square raised beds, providing an element of formality. The toddlers’ play area has been much altered; though the space remains sunken, the overall level has been raised with the loss of the varied forms originally built into the brick slopes, including a slide, climbing blocks and a ramp. A series of sloping vertical ledges remains as a reminder of an unusual concertinaing stair which continued lower down. New play equipment has been installed, and railings have been erected around the perimeter. The northern corner of the site, behind Truro House, Sunderland House and Stonehouse House, is dominated by parking areas, but the landscaping approach remains consistent, with brick-banked grassed areas to the margins and filling in small openings between the buildings, and lines of trees. The play area for older children is to the east of this section, the form of which remains as designed, with the more recent installation of railings, some new play equipment, and cushioned surfacing. The play area’s most notable feature is its monumental slide structure, formed of a range of massed brick slopes and blocks to the west. Above the slide to the west is a paved area, planted with a sessile oak. To the east, the play area is enclosed by a wide curving stair or seating area, giving the sunken space a sense of theatre, with a narrower straight stair with long, shallow treads, projecting to the south. The stair is backed by a rounded grassed mound. To the west is a sunken ballgames area, surrounded by a brick wall and a replacement metal fence.

In general the landscape has seen relatively few interventions: recent planting includes a Japanese maple, some metal railings have been installed in addition to those associated with play areas, as have some lamp-posts, as well as concrete and metal bollards in parking areas. A composting area has been enclosed by a metal fence in the north-east section of the site.

Sources

Books and journals
Handisyde, CC (author), Hard Landscape in Brick, (1976), 37
Pevsner, N, Cherry, B, The Buildings of England: London 3 North West, (1991), 692
Websites
Article by Colin Moore: 'Brunel Estate Landscape: the essence of Michael Brown', accessed 19 November 2019 from https://merl.reading.ac.uk/news-and-views/2019/01/brunel-estate-landscape-the-essence-of-michael-brown/
Obituary of Michael Brown, accessed 19 November 2019 from https://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/obituary-michael-brown-1340740.html
Post on Michael Brown's housing landscapes, accessed 25 May 2020 from http://www.landscapearchitecture.org.uk/michael-brown-and-the-landscape-architecture-of-housing/

Legal

This garden or other land is registered under the Historic Buildings and Ancient Monuments Act 1953 within the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens by Historic England for its special historic interest.

End of official listing

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