When built in the 1970s, Wornington Green Estate was hailed for its provision of a new standard of housing for tenants. However, over time its elevated walkways and other architectural features caused problems, particularly anti-social behaviour. Intrinsic design flaws, which led to escalating maintenance costs, added to the woes. Refurbishment and alterations could not remedy problems at the core of the design and purpose of the estate.
The new street is part of a regeneration by Catalyst that is projected to replace 538 dwellings with 919 homes (1622 habitable rooms with 2621). This is achieved by building consistently a little higher, along with knitting into the street pattern and making the land use more efficient. Public realm — in particular a small park, Athlone Gardens – is upgraded in the process. The increase to include housing units for sale enables funds to be raised that pay for the overall improved standards.
Catalyst guarantees a new home in Portobello Square for existing tenants and will provide the same number of social housing properties in the redeveloped neighbourhood as before. Residents move in phases as new homes are completed. When the old blocks of low to mid-rise homes become vacant they are demolished to make way for the next phase. This process is repeated until the redevelopment is complete.
Before: Until the Wornington Green Estate was built, Wheatstone Road was a tree-lined through road, part of a grid of streets in the neighbourhood. It disappeared when the estate was created in the 1970s.
Restored: A new street has been created on the lost footprint of Wheatstone Road and is now an extension of Bonchurch Road. The mature plane trees, for 40 years at the edge of a park, are now back in the street.
Until the 1860s Portobello Lane, now Portobello Road, was a country lane. The fields of Portobello Farm were located on what is now becoming Portobello Square. This was despite the Grand Union Canal (1801) and the Great Western Railway (1838) running close to the site. The arrival of the underground line from 1864 led to an explosion in house building and by 1879 the area was covered in Victorian terraced housing, typically three storeys with basements. Designed for the homeowning middle-class, parts of the area failed to live up to the dream and houses became overcrowded rental properties, with many families in each.
These slum streets were razed to the ground and replaced by the Wornington Green Estate in the 1970s. This gave much improved private space to the residents but quickly created problems with a disrupted public realm. The dead-ends of the ‘island’ estate, with ’streets in the sky’ walkways and single points of entry, created security and other issues.
The masterplan for Portobello Square (developed by PRP, who were also the architects of Phase 1) reinstates much of the original street pattern. When complete, Portobello Road will run up to Ladbroke Grove, there will be a refreshed park and new local shops. In the revival of strong terraces, with deep window and balcony features, and in the use of brick and stone, architects PRP have responded to elements apparent in some of the best of the neighbouring nineteenth century terraces. Details such as the prevailing window line, or the use of glazed bricks around one junction, have been picked up and carried through.
The maturity of the design at Bonchurch Road results in part also from re-incorporating a line of large trees, perhaps a century old, back into the street they were always meant to accompany. The planes provide shade, humidifying and cleansing the air, giving an immediate generous green vista to all residents of the new street.
Portobello Square — A 21st Century Street
A film celebrating the creation of a new street, Bonchurch Road which now links Ladbroke Grove to Wornington Road. Part of the Catalyst Housing's regeneration of Wornington Green - Portobello Square.
Kensington Calling, 1934
Made for the Kensington Housing Trust, this film uses then innovative animation techniques as it shows the terrible slum conditions that existed in North Kensington. Some streets of overcrowded, vermin-infested housing continued until the radical clearance delivered by Wornington Green Estate in the 1970s. There was little appreciation at that point of the positives worth retaining in the street plan and housing density.
With thanks to Kensington & Chelsea Local Archive