Slide structure in children's playground, Brunel Estate

Overview

Heritage Category:
Listed Building
Grade:
II
List Entry Number:
1468979
Date first listed:
18-Aug-2020
Location Description:
The slide structure is set within the children's playground in the north-western part of the estate.
Statutory Address:
Brunel Estate, Westbourne Park Road, London, W2

Map

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Location

Statutory Address:
Brunel Estate, Westbourne Park Road, London, W2

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

Location Description:
The slide structure is set within the children's playground in the north-western part of the estate.
County:
Greater London Authority
District:
City of Westminster (London Borough)
Parish:
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:
TQ2509781664

Summary

Slide structure, forming part of a children’s playground within a wider housing estate landscape, the whole being 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.

Reasons for Designation

The slide structure at the Brunel Estate, constructed 1973-1974 to the design of Michael Brown, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest:

* as a sculptural, dramatic and innovative play structure by leading landscape architect Michael Brown; * the complex architectural form offers opportunities for varied, imaginative and exciting play; * the structure is an impressive showcase for Brown’s facility with subtle and inventive brickwork.

Historic interest:

* as a rare surviving example of an intact architectural play structure dating from the early 1970s; * the slide is a representative of an optimistic and influential movement for facilitating adventure and imagination in the playground; * as an important element within a near-complete example of an early-1970s urban housing estate landscape, designed by a professional landscape architect, and exemplifying trends towards more informal landscaping, providing space and privacy, with integrated areas for repose and for play.

Group value:

* with the Brunel Estate landscape, registered at Grade II, in particular the play area within which the slide is set, and with the unlisted buildings around which the estate was designed.

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 IK 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’). 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 Brunel Estate won a Brick Industry Certificate of Merit for its hard landscape in 1974.

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’. The brick slide structure forms part of the estate’s play area for older children in the northern section of the estate; the essential structure remains much as originally built, though a number of modifications have been made with a view to improving safety. The form of the playground, enclosed to the east by a wide curving stair or seating area, remains as designed, though new play equipment has been installed. Within the toddlers' play area in the southern part of the estate, the brick structures which Brown designed - including a smaller slide - have been removed.

Brown’s monumental slide structure, together with the playground which surrounds it, belongs to a powerful mid-C20 movement towards provision for adventurous, imaginative play, having its genesis in Scandinavia where in 1943, during German occupation, Carl Theodor Sørensen had developed the informal Emdrup ‘junk’ playground in Copenhagen. The guiding force in England was the landscape architect and campaigner for children’s welfare Marjory Allen, Lady Allen of Hurtwood, whose study of children’s play led to the foundation of experimental adventure playgrounds in the years after the Second World War. Allen’s 1968 book, Planning for Play, explored developments in play provision, describing the design of play areas in housing estates as a means of ‘keeping alive, and of sustaining, the innate curiosity and natural gaiety of children’. Planning for Play singles out one of Brown’s landscapes, at the Winstanley Road Estate, Battersea, for the way in which the entire landscape – including pedestrian ways as well as designated play spaces – was conceived in terms of children’s play activities, as part of the total environment. Earth mounding, as seen at the Brunel Estate, and reaching a dramatic climax in the construction of the slide structure, is noted by Allen as being a valuable element in the creation of landscapes for play, as a form of sculpture encouraging climbing, clambering and sliding. The sculptural quality of the slide structure has some relationship with playground equipment – notably slides – produced during the 1950s and 60s by influential architects/sculptors including Egon Møller-Nielsen in Stockholm and Josef Schagerl in Vienna. The Brunel structure can be compared with serpentine slides created by Mary Mitchell for her creative play landscapes of the 1960s and 1970s, and comparisons can also be drawn with New York playgrounds designed during the 1960s by Richard Dattner and M Paul Friedberg, which featured stone-set undulations, some incorporating slides, for uninterrupted play. A model of the Brunel slide structure, made of foam, was a feature of the RIBA’s 2015 exhibition on post-war playgrounds, The Brutalist Playground, by Assemble and Simon Terrill; other play equipment (at Churchill Gardens Estate by Powell and Moya, 1947-1964 and at Ernö Goldfinger’s 1965-1967 Balfron Tower on the Brownfield Estate) also celebrated by the exhibition has been lost.

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, a landscape planner with a strongly ecological approach whose use of levels greatly influenced his work. 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. (Apart from aesthetic considerations, the raising of grass areas protected against short-cuts.) 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

Slide structure, forming part of a children’s playground within a wider housing estate landscape, the whole being 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.

MATERIALS: multi-red engineering brick. No special bricks are used, all angles being mitred. The slide itself is of steel. Later steel bow-top railings have been installed, replacing the original open tubular handrails.

STRUCTURE: occupying an irregularly-shaped site, set on a slope which rises towards the north-west where the top of the slide is located, the structure consists of a range of massed brick slopes and blocks which rise towards the summit, providing a varied climbing area. The slide itself is set into a steep curving slope, and snakes downwards around the south-eastern side of the structure ending in a sunken area to the south-east; some cushioned surfacing has been installed here. This lower area is enclosed by slopes, with a stair to the east. The structure’s slopes originally included strategically-placed projecting bricks to serve as footholds for climbing children, with metal hand-hold posts above; these have all been removed, and holes filled with matching bricks. The final approach to the top of the slide is provided by a staircases built into the slopes to the east and west. The western staircase, accessed from a raised terrace, is protected on its eastern side by a low wall constructed of the dark brown brick used in the estate’s buildings and other walls. The feature includes threes steps and a small paved area to the east of the slide.

Sources

Books and journals
Burkhalter, G (editor), The Playground Project, (2018)
Cherry, Bridget, Pevsner, Nikolaus, The Buildings of England London 3: North West, (1991), 692
Handisyde, CC (author), Hard Landscape in Brick, (1976), 37
Lady Allen of Hurtwood, , Planning for Play, (1968)
St Hill, C, 'London Festival of Architecture: The Brutalist Playground; Designers: Assemble with artist Simon Terrill' in Blueprint, , Vol. 341, (July /Aug 2015), 225
Websites
Article by Colin Moore: Brunel Estate Landscape: the essence of Michael Brown, accessed 18 November 2019 from https://merl.reading.ac.uk/news-and-views/2019/01/brunel-estate-landscape-the-essence-of-michael-brown/
Article on The Brutalist Playground exhibition, accessed 18 November 2019 from https://www.archdaily.com/633677/assemble-to-construct-a-brutalist-playground-at-riba
Obituary of Michael Brown, accessed 10 January 2020 from https://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/obituary-michael-brown-1340740.html

Legal

This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

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