This is a guest post by Elizabeth Hopkirk, a friend and colleague at Building Design. She visited the World's End Estate as part of the 2013 Open House London weekend.
The building of the World's End Estate in Chelsea is the story of a struggle.
It was masterplanned in 1963 by Eric Lyons on 11 acres of Victorian terraces that stood between the western end of the Kings Road and the Thames.
With the support of his client, the local authority, Lyons came up with a design that fitted 747 one- to four-bedroom homes on the site.
But this exceeded the population density deemed acceptable by the London County Council so the whole project went to a public inquiry.
Lyons and the council eventually won in December 1966 and work to clear the site began in 1968.
But the first residents did not move in until 1975 and the estate was finally completed in 1977, partly because the workers went on strike when they discovered sub-contractors were being paid less.
We were taken on a tour during Open House weekend by two guides who between them clocked up more than 70 years on the estate.
They told us that many of the original residents are still there so World's End has a largely ageing population. Of 3,500 residents, only 300 are children.
It is still owned by the council, though run by an arms-length body. Of the 747 flats, 550 are still inhabited by council tenants, 110 are owner-occupied and the rest are sub-let.
The estate is made from concrete clad in red bricks, as you can see. We were told it was all made on site. Sadly the council wouldn't let us into any of the empty flats so my pictures are all external.
There are seven faceted towers of different heights which stand at the corners of an angular figure-of-eight loop of lower-rise “walkway blocks”. The loops enclose two internal gardens at first-floor level – planted on the roof of the car park below.
Many people have also customised their balconies and there is a community garden tended by residents on the river side.
|The view towards central London|
The north side, facing Kings Road, has a theatre (originally a community centre), police station, church, shops, a primary school and a “piazza”.
|The piazza with shops and a church and police station to the right|
Turner and Whistler lived and painted here. One of Lyons' towers is named after Whistler and another after his ferryman and protege Walter Greaves. Later the area drew hippies, models and rock stars. It feels a lot more ordinary now.
This is my favourite tower, Dartrey, with the ever-so-slender
chimney attached by little more than a couple of straws. To me it is the
missing link between the two-piece Trellick Tower and the crenellated Barbican.
The towers' prominence in a low-rise neighbourhood is mitigated by their varying heights and the horizontal blocks that absorb the bottom few storeys.
The entire estate is essentially one building and once you're in you can get everywhere. But the serpentine design means you never feel you are pounding some endless corridor. There used to be more entrances but now the only doors are at the feet of the towers.
Despite much that is uniform, Lyons managed to design in variety and surprises. Corridors vary in width. There are sudden views of the river, trees or other parts of the estate. And, although the bricks must be factory-made, they've been laid in geometric patterns and help break up the vast scale of the buildings. They also echo the beautiful dark brick chimneys of the neighbouring Lots Road Power Station (sadly soon to be crowded by new towers of luxury flats).
World's End feels to me more visually stimulating than the
Mies rip-offs and point blocks that make up so much post-war council housing.
See what you think.
|The Lots Road power station chimneys|