Home of the famous Carnival, Notting Hill is a vibrant area of strong contrasts; where some of the most expensive properties in London rub shoulders with some of the most troubled. Architectural styles are similarly varied with Victorian wedding-cake-like confections of white and cream stucco, interspersed with cute pastel-coloured terraces and monumental twentieth century Brutalism. For architecture lovers, as Hugh Grant understatedly puts it in the 1999 film, ‘Notting Hill – not a bad place to be…’
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Embassy of the Czech Republic
Located near Notting Hill tube, the Czech Embassy dates from 1965-1970, a period which the Twentieth Century Society refers to as the golden age of Czech architecture. In 1971 the building was awarded the RIBA Award for the best building in the UK created by foreign architects. Somewhat bulky and austere as it faces Notting Hill Gate, the building’s best side is visible from Kensington Palace Gardens, a striking Modernist composition of subdivided volumes and large picture windows facing towards the tree lined boulevard. A detailed video tour is available online from the architecture critic Owen Hatherley.
It’s becoming increasingly clear as we travel around London that the writer George Orwell moved around a lot. In fact reading this interesting guide, you could almost ask is there anywhere in the capital that cannot lay claim to him? We have previously noted his house in Canonbury where he wrote Animal Farm and 1984. In 1918 the young Orwell (aged 15) lived with his parents in Mall Chambers on Kensington Mall, a handsome block for artisans with a theatrical communal staircase on its corner. Mall Chambers is now Grade 2 listed.
23 Kensington Place
A brooding dark brick bookend to a row of pastel coloured houses, the architect Tom Kay’s house must have caused a stir when it was constructed in 1967. Built for a photographer and an opera singer, the house appears as an assemblage of closed sculptural solids from the outside, but conceals a lofty light-filled space within. More details about the house and Tom Kay’s other fantastic residential projects can be found here.
Portobello Road / 22 Portobello Road
Perhaps the spiritual heart of Notting Hill, Portobello Road runs roughly north-south, starting a stone’s throw from Notting Hill station and ending some way north of the Westway. The famous street market operates all week with varying stalls (fruit & veg, antiques, fashion) on different days.
At no. 22 Portobello Road a blue plaque marks a further previous abode of the young George Orwell. Now a pretty street with pastel coloured houses, it certainly didn’t look like this in his day, the Orwell Foundation describes ‘The room was so cold that he had to warm his hands over a candle-flame before he could start writing in the morning. From this icy cell he set out in old clothes to mingle with the tramps and down-and-outs who slept along the Embankment…’
Blue Door & Travel Bookshop
Another fictional resident of Portobello Road, Hugh Grant’s character William lived at the corner of Portobello Road and Westbourne Park Road in the film ‘Notting Hill’. The famous blue door at 280 Westbourne Park Road in fact once belonged to Richard Curtis who wrote screenplay for the film. Architecturally speaking, the twinned Doric columns either side of the doorway do suggest the person within may be of some significance! Meanwhile the bookshop that William worked at is located nearby at no. 142 Portobello Road, now a gift shop.
One of the earliest cinemas in London and one of the first buildings in the area to use electricity, the Electric Cinema opened its doors with a screening of ‘Henry VIII’ in 1911. It has been in almost permanent use as a cinema since then. Designed in the ‘Edwardian Baroque’ style this was clearly intended as a grandiose experience, though in fact was on a relatively small scale compared to the cinemas that would go to be built in the 1930s. Nowadays the grandeur continues with the cinema interior fitted out with luxurious armchair style seats and a private members club.
Westbourne Grove Public Lavatories and Flower Shop
An imaginative and colourful collision of programmatic elements (toilets + flower shop) on what was once was a traffic island, this award-winning project brings wit and pizzazz to what could be the most mundane of briefs – public conveniences. Constructed from turquoise glazed bricks, the architects CZWG point out that ‘the rent from the florist offsets the attendant and running cost of the lavatories’. More humorously they once explained that the super-sized graphics of the man and woman are deliberately designed to look like they are desperate for the toilet.
St Peter’s Church & Stanley Crescent
Visible over the western roofs of Portobello Road, St Peter’s Church marks the easterly edge of the Ladbroke estate on Kensington Park Road. Picked out in a spectacular pale orange colour (a recently applied limewash intended to replicate the original Bath stone) the building stands boldly out from the white stucco residences surrounding it. Designed in the classical style by the architect Thomas Allom, work was on the church was completed in 1857. It is now Grade 2* listed. From an urban point of view, the church sets up a dramatic set piece with the symmetrical turreted houses on Stanley Crescent opposite.
An ambitious piece of neighbourhood planning on a grand scale. The area was first designed in 1824 by the architect Thomas Allason with a large central circus with radiating streets and garden squares, likely influenced by John Nash’s Regents Park Estate. What is remarkable is the very low density of the area with much of the available space given over to gardens – as can be clearly seen in aerial views and figure-ground plans. There are 16 communal gardens in the estate and the biggest, Ladbroke Square Gardens, is the one of the largest such gardens in London. As well as gardens the estate is also arranged around architectural focal points such as St Peter’s Church and Stanley Crescent described above, or St. John’s Church which is located at the top of the hill when seen from the west.
18 Lansdowne Crescent & 65 Ladbroke Grove
Designed by the minimalist architect John Pawson and replacing an undistinguished 1950s brick block of flats, 18 Lansdowne Crescent prompted some outcry from locals when it was constructed in 2004 due to its Modern appearance. It shouldn’t have as Maxwell Fry’s 1930s block – no. 65 Ladbroke Grove – is practically next door and was even more radical in its day.
Nearly twenty years on, the Pawson’s Portland stone building looks very well composed in its setting. The enormous picture window on the eastern façade hints at what must be an incredible double height apartment beyond.
28 Lansdowne Crescent
Not hugely exciting on the outside, a-blink-and-you-missed-it moment of blankness in the highly decorated Lansdowne Crescent facades, the architect Jeremy Lever’s house dates from 1973 and is now Grade 2 listed. The house infilled a previous gap in the terrace and fitted a wonderfully intricate house behind the anonymous façade.
The Cosmic House
The Cosmic House, which opened as a museum in 2022, was previously the home of the architectural historian, cultural theorist and landscape designer Charles Jencks and his wife Maggie Keswick Jencks a writer, gardener and designer. Following her diagnosis with cancer in 1995, Keswick Jencks conceived of the need for better environments for cancer care, which led to the creation of Maggie’s Centres after her death.
The Cosmic House was constructed between 1978 and 1983 is an fantastical smorgasbord of post-modern design and cosmological symbolism undertaken by some of the starchitects of the day – a kind of late twentieth century Soane’s Museum. Located on Lansdowne Walk, tickets for entry are released regularly but immediately sell like hot cakes. Get them if you can.
Close to The Cosmic House and literally round the corner from Holland Park tube on Lansdowne Road, Lansdowne House is an incredible Arts and Crafts assemblage by the architect William Flockhart dating from the start of the twentieth century. Flockhart was also the architect of a similarly impressive shopfront at 180 New Bond Street.
Constructed as purpose-built studios and residences for artists, the eight storey building was occupied by numerous creative types as recorded by the blue plaque on the side elevation. It is imaginatively sculpted: with projecting corner bays, stepping gable ends, generous irregular balconies, arches and windows of a wide variety of sizes, particularly large on the north elevation – which is perhaps where the studios were located. The building is now subdivided into flats and is Grade 2 listed.
Located on Walmer Road, as it says on the side of the kiln itself: ‘This kiln is a reminder of the 19th century when potteries and brickfields were established here amid some of the poorest housing conditions in London; it is one of the few examples of a bottle kiln left in London…’ It is a surprising and surreal form amongst the otherwise conventional housing and a reminder that the bricks used construct Victorian London were literally dug out of the ground and created right next to where they were used for building. A truly local product.
Like the nearby Cosmic House this is a recent addition to the Notting Hill architecture scene and the area is all the better for it. Though relatively modest to look at from the street (on Walmer Road), the rendered facades conceal an incredibly rich and inventive collection of four houses arranged around a central courtyard. Designed by the architect and academic Peter Salter together with Fenella Collingridge, the project was underwritten by enlightened developer and ex architecture student Crispin Kelly. It took over a decade to design and realise with every detail considered, drawn, redrawn and drawn again. A remarkable and authentic work of architecture – the homes are available for short term stays from the Baylight Foundation.
The most famous building in Notting Hill for all the wrong reasons, the 24 storey residential tower was struck by a devastating fire on the 14th of June 2017. 72 people died, with more than 70 injured – it was the UK’s worst residential fire since World War 2.
Originally designed in a Brutalist style with exposed concrete columns and spandrel panels, the original exterior was overclad with Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) panels as part of a wider refurbishment of the building in 2015 and 2016. It was this ACM cladding that caused the fire to spread rapidly around the building.
A recently published book ‘Show Me the Bodies’ by Peter Apps details what happened in a clear and moving account.
The tower is now dressed with the message ‘Grenfell Forever in our Hearts’. Walking around Notting Hill, especially close to the tower, it is clear that the painful memories are still very much alive.
The Westway, a vast east-to-west motorway bridge, bisects Notting Hill, or separates Notting Hill from North Kensington depending on your point of view.
The Westway bridge is 25 metres wide and 1.5km long as it passes through Notting Hill which makes the area underneath equivalent to 3.75 hectares or roughly 3.75 x the area of Trafalgar Square. That’s a lot of covered space and it’s space that is used for all sorts of things: sport centres, shops, a bus depot, youth clubs and huge works of graffiti and public art, many of which are heartfelt and relating to the Grenfell tragedy.
St Mark’s Road Housing
An imaginative and witty approach to council housing built between 1975 and 1979 by the architects Jeremy and Fenella Dixon, located on St. Mark’s Road. The housing represented a rejection of the austere rectilinear forms of Modernism (or the more extreme Brutalism) and a return to more traditional housing forms, at the same time crossed with playful invention and bold graphic colour – a concoction very much of the Dixons’ own making.
The housing reads as a terrace of large adjoining houses but each ‘house’ is in fact subdivided into two thinner houses upstairs over a basement flat. All the units are dramatically diagonally skewed in plan, as can be seen in aerial views and to the rear of the housing. Just as with a Robert Venturi (the father of post-modern architecture) project, there’s more going on here than meets the eye – and there’s already a lot going on! Models of the project were included in ‘The Return of the Past: Postmodernism in British Architecture’ exhibition at the Soane’s Museum in 2018.
A recently completed example of new housing, which has created 1000 new homes, over a number of city blocks. Designed by the architects PRP the scheme has already won various awards including ‘Regeneration Project of the Year’ at the 2019 RICS Awards. Particularly successful is Bonchurch Road which reinterprets a traditional townhouse typology with a terrace of slender-proportioned Modern houses facing towards a tree lined boulevard. Ideally contemplated from Layla’s café on the corner of Bonchurch Road and Portobello Road!
The Tabernacle was built as an ‘iron church’ in 1887 i.e. using cast iron rather than more traditional stone. The term ‘tabernacle’ (dating from biblical times) literally means ‘a fixed or movable dwelling, typically of light construction.’ The related church type ‘Tin Tabernacles’ were developed in the mid 19th century to create cheap and quickly constructed places for worship, theses were normally faced with corrugated iron, hence the name.
The exterior approach is striking with the church set back from Powis Square and entered via a deep front garden. The building is arranged as a rotunda flanked by two turrets and faced with deep red brickwork and terracotta. Now reborn as a local community centre, it is used for a wide variety of uses, including temporary art exhibitions, with a large auditorium space upstairs and a great community restaurant underneath.
All Saints Church
Close to The Tabernacle, All Saints church is Grade 2* listed and was constructed between 1852 and 1861 to the designs of William White, a prolific ecclesiastical architect of his day. A striking church as it is, said to be reminiscent of the Belfry of Bruges in Belgium, the existing 30m tower is incomplete. White’s originally proposed spire (a further 20m high) was never built due to bankruptcy of the client.
Brunel Estate slide
Just to prove that listed structures needn’t be buildings, the slide in the Brunel Estate’s children’s playground was awarded a Grade 2 listing in 2020. What’s more the official listing is one of the longest we’ve ever seen (perhaps matching the length of the slide itself!). The structure was constructed in 1970, by Michael Brown who designed the rest of the Estate’s landscaping in a similar style – much of which is well preserved intact. As the listing puts it: ‘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…’ Sadly the original purity of the design has been somewhat diminished with numerous insensitive galvanised railings added all over it, but hopefully as recognition grows of the slide’s architectural value these details can be addressed.
What a magnificent creation the Trellik Tower is! At the outer reaches of a tour of Notting Hill – but what a conclusion. Visible for miles around, the scale is akin to a town cathedral in the distance and is no less impressive the closer you get to it.
Trellik Tower was a refinement of the architect Erno Goldfinger’s earlier Balfron Tower in east London; a Brutalist work strongly influenced by the later work of the architect Le Corbusier with a similar sculptural intricacy from macro to micro scale. The Tower which contains 217 dwellings was originally owned by the GLC and used for social housing, it is now a mix of private and publicly owned. There were early problems with vandalism following its opening in 1972, but after the installation of a concierge (which Goldfinger had originally specified) and further security measures in 1987 it became a desirable place to live. The building is now Grade 2* listed. The adjacent Edenham Estate is also by Goldfinger and is also listed.
Prize for the wittiest shop name in Notting Hill goes to ‘Rellik’ which is located directly opposite the entrance to the Trellik Tower and sells vintage clothing.
The building that ‘Rellik’ is located within is also of note – Holmefield House, 1965 by the architect Julian Keable. Holmefield House features within a recently published book of council housing (as does the Trellik Tower itself and even the Brunel Estate slide).
Dominic McKenzie Architects is an award-winning London-based architecture practice. Our designs are contemporary and concept-led, but are always sensitive to the architectural context in which they are constructed. Contact us here.