Living on Vanbrugh Park Estate

Stumbling across Chamberlin, Powell and Bon’s second and lesser-known housing project in Blackheath

chamberlin Powell and bON

Jess and Pete Sampson live on the ‘other’ Chamberlin Powell and Bon estate and they didn’t choose Vanbrugh Park Estate by chance. Jess’s archi-journey began in Western Australia, discovering Iwan Iwanoff (confession here we had to google him… but you don’t have to, we added him to the Lexicon) this triggered a love of Brutalist and Modernist architecture, so naturally, when Jess relocated to London and visited a pal in the Golden Lane Estate, all the dots joined up.

Together with Pete, a graphic designer with a big love of modernist principles, the couple have taken their obsession, which every fan of Brutalism gets, to the next level. They really care that we should give Vanbrugh Park Estate as much attention as the Barbican, so what could be better than building a website dedicated to it.

Greyscape asked them about their journey of discovery and if they would give us an insider’s view. Over to Jess and Pete…..

Chamberlain Powell and Bon

We were always fascinated by Brutalist architecture – and modernist design in general – with the Barbican being our idea of a dream home. How close it is to Central London yet totally serene; the arts complex, pockets of hidden green space, library and conservatory; not to mention the apartments themselves that were so thoughtfully designed, playing with light, form and beautiful long-lasting materials. But then, of course; the price comes with it….. somewhat prohibitive! So when we stumbled across Chamberlin, Powell and Bon’s second and lesser-known housing project in Blackheath that was within(ish) our budget, we were delighted.

Vanbrugh Park Estate, completed in 1963, shares many stylistic similarities to the Barbican and Golden Lane estates, from the semi-circular motifs and the purposeful use of light to their approach to designing for communal living. Plus, a little-known fact: suffragette Emily Davison was born in Roxburgh House, 13 Vanbrugh Park Road West, where VPE now sits, Emily is tragically remembered for running onto the racetrack of the 1913 Derby in the path of King George V’s horse Anmer, losing her life in the process. She was a passionate fighter of her cause for a woman’s right to vote. We love that the history of this area is as legendary as the architecture. The area was heavily bombed during WW2 which made way for the new estate to be built with first residents moving into their homes in 1965.

Chamberlin Powell and Bon

Our home didn’t retain all of Chamberlin, Powell and Bon’s original features but we were won over by the unusual stove, chimney and stairwell space in the centre of the house that all the terraces were built with – it reaches double-height and floods the area with light from clerestory windows above. We still have the cladded walls in the bedrooms and landing upstairs along with the original floorboards (albeit in fairly poor condition), but hope to replace these sensitively in the future.

british architecture chamberlin powell and bon

After living here for close to two years, we’ve come to appreciate it more than we ever imagined – the good and the bad. When we first moved in and saw how some residents had decorated their home (the country style maisonette with scalloped cladding springs to mind. Can only assume they REALLY dislike the architecture style), we were pretty snobbish about it. But as time goes on and you get to know your neighbours, you realise it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, and that making a house a home is up for interpretation. Some people have lived here as children and are now in their retirement years – they simply don’t quite get the appeal of the 60s – but it says something that they’re still living here after all this time. 

chamberlin powell and bon estate london Vanbrugh Park Estate se london
Chamberlin Powell and Bon London estates

Combe Avenue viewed from the street

We feel such privilege to live so close to the beautiful Greenwich Park and have friendly neighbours that look out for each other.As we wanted to contribute to the community ourselves, we made a website that would first and foremost serve residents with useful information, events and news, as well as for those who are interested in Chamberlin, Powell and Bon’s work with some great historical photos.

Chamberlin Powell and Bon architects Blackheath estate
chamberlin powell and bon

Westcombe Park

Vanbrugh Park Estate may not be the architects’ most celebrated work, but we now know just how special it is. Sadly, for the moment, it isn’t listed and with that in mind it’s interesting to consider why it has been somewhat overlooked, perhaps too many of the houses have evolved regardless of it being in a conservation area, this frankly wasn’t helped by the council replacing the doors in a mock Georgian style! Whilst it doesn’t have the dramatic details such as the windows on Golden Lane it has very much its own unique character.

Vanbrugh Estate

Chamberlin, Powell and Bon Design Timeline:

1951 Geoffrey Powell wins the competition to design Golden Lane Estate

1952 Chamberlin, Powell and Bon set up their practice (they had each submitted a design and had agreed to work together should one of the trio win)

1954 Construction begins Bousfield Primary School and water tower, Chelsea

1955 Golden Lane completed

1959 The practice begins working on a project for Leeds University which continues until the 1970s

1959 Corporation of London choose their design for what would become the Barbican

1962 Construction of Murray Edwards College New Hall, Cambridge begin

1963 Vanbrugh Park Estate, completed

1965 Construction of Barbican Estate begins

1969 First Barbican resident moves into their home

1971 Construction of the Barbican Centre begins

1982 Barbican Centre formally opened by The Queen on the 3rd March

2019 5oth Anniversary of the first resident moving into their home in the Barbican

Need to know stuff from Pete and Jess:

Favourite local spot: Greenwich Park

Favourite song: Pete: Ceremony by Joy Division  Jess: Try a Little Tenderness by Otis Redding

Favourite film: Pete: The Royal Tenenbaums  Jess: Clueless

Visit Jess and Pete’s website vanbrughparkestate.com at their design studio dos.studio London  and on Instagram at www.instragram.com/dos_world/ 

All Vanbrugh Park Estate images (interior and exterior) are the Copyright of Pete Sampson ©

Map Copyright of Vanbrugh Estate

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