Living on Vanbrugh Park Estate
Stumbling across Chamberlin, Powell and Bon’s second and lesser-known housing project in Blackheath
We’re delighted that Vanbrugh Park Estate is getting the attention it richly deserves! Phineas Harper, Director of (the brilliant) Open House and self-proclaimed ‘new resident’ of the estate held an ‘at home with Open House‘ from Chamberlin, Powell and Bon’s lesser-known but no less worthy of recognition, housing estate in South East London.
Two residents that generously shared their experiences with us, Jess and Pete Sampson explained why they didn’t choose the 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…..
We were always fascinated by Brutalist architecture – and modernist design in general. 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.
Our home didn’t retain all of Chamberlin, Powell and Bon’s original features. 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, which 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. Our hope is to replace these sensitively in the future.
Two years later
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 some residents had decorated their homes country style with scalloped cladding. 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.
It is such a privilege to live so close to the beautiful Greenwich Park and to have friendly neighbours that look out for each other. The decision to contribute to the community has been in the form of the creation of a website. The website gives residents useful information, plus events and news. It’s a go-to spot for people who are interested in Chamberlin, Powell and Bon’s work. It also contains some great historical photos.
The 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. 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.
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:
Local spot thats a favourite: Greenwich Park
Song you love: Pete: Ceremony by Joy Division Jess: Try a Little Tenderness by Otis Redding
Film we need to watch: Pete: The Royal Tenenbaums Jess: Clueless
All Vanbrugh Park Estate images (interior and exterior) are the Copyright of Pete Sampson ©
Map Copyright of Vanbrugh Estate