Famed for its annual Carnival, Notting Hill presents a lively fusion of contrasts, where some of London's priciest real estate coexists with areas facing challenges. Notting Hill’s architecture boasts a diverse blend of ornate Victorian designs, charming pastel-shaded terraces, and imposing 20th-century Brutalist structures. As Hugh Grant aptly said in the 1999 film, "Notting Hill – not a bad place to be…"
Embassy of the Czech Republic
Situated near Notting Hill's tube station, the Czech Embassy was constructed between 1965 and 1970, a time referred to as the golden age of Czech architecture by the Twentieth Century Society. In 1971, the building received the RIBA Award for the best UK building by foreign architects. Although its exterior may seem somewhat imposing, the structure's most impressive side can be seen from Kensington Palace Gardens, showcasing a modernist arrangement of divided volumes and expansive picture windows overlooking the tree-lined avenue. Architecture critic Owen Hatherley offers a detailed video tour online.
23 Kensington Place
Architect Tom Kay's dark brick residence stands out among a row of pastel-coloured houses. Constructed in 1967 for a photographer and an opera singer, the building's exterior presents a collection of closed sculptural forms, while its interior reveals a spacious, light-filled area.
As we explore London, it becomes apparent that author George Orwell lived in numerous locations throughout the city. In 1918, a 15-year-old Orwell resided with his parents in Mall Chambers on Kensington Mall, an attractive block for artisans featuring a dramatic communal staircase on the corner. Mall Chambers is now a Grade 2 listed building.
Portobello Road / 22 Portobello Road
Arguably the heart of Notting Hill, Portobello Road stretches from just outside Notting Hill station to north of the Westway. The renowned street market operates throughout the week, offering various stalls (fruit & veg, antiques, fashion) on different days.
At 22 Portobello Road, a blue plaque commemorates another former residence of the young George Orwell. Though now a picturesque street lined with pastel-coloured houses, Orwell's time there was markedly different. 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
In the film "Notting Hill," Hugh Grant's character William resided at the corner of Portobello Road and Westbourne Park Road. The famous blue door at 280 Westbourne Park Road once belonged to Richard Curtis, who wrote the film's screenplay. Architecturally, the paired Doric columns flanking the entrance hint at the significance of the person living inside! Meanwhile, William's bookshop is located nearby at 142 Portobello Road, now a gift shop.
Infamously known for all the wrong reasons, Grenfell Tower, a 24-story residential building in Notting Hill, suffered a catastrophic fire on June 14, 2017. The tragedy claimed 72 lives and left over 70 injured, marking the UK's worst residential fire since the second world war.
Originally designed in a Brutalist style with exposed concrete columns and spandrel panels, the building's exterior was overclad with Aluminum Composite Material (ACM) panels during a wider refurbishment in 2015 and 2016. The rapid spread of the fire around the building was attributed to this ACM cladding.
Peter Apps' recently published book, "Show Me the Bodies," provides a clear and poignant account of the disaster. The tower now displays the message "Grenfell Forever in our Hearts." Walking around Notting Hill, particularly near the tower, it is evident that the painful memories remain very much alive.
Westbourne Grove Public Lavatories and Flower Shop
This imaginative and vibrant combination of functions (toilets and flower shop) was once a traffic island. The award-winning project adds flair and creativity to what could have been a mundane assignment – public restrooms. Built with turquoise glazed bricks, the architects at CZWG note that "the rent from the florist offsets the attendant and running cost of the lavatories." They humorously added that the oversized graphics of the man and woman appear as if they urgently need to use the facilities.
As one of London's earliest cinemas and among the first buildings in the area to utilise electricity, the Electric Cinema opened in 1911 with a screening of "Henry VIII." It has been in continuous operation as a cinema since then. Designed in the "Edwardian Baroque" style, the cinema aimed to provide a grand experience, albeit on a smaller scale than the cinemas built in the 1930s. Today, the cinema maintains its opulence with plush armchair-style seating and an exclusive members club.
An ambitious neighbourhood planning project on a grand scale, architect Thomas Allason first designed the area in 1824, featuring a large central circus with radiating streets and garden squares, likely inspired by John Nash's Regent's Park Estate. Remarkably, the estate has a very low density, with most of the available space dedicated to gardens – evident in aerial views and figure-ground plans. There are 16 communal gardens in the estate, with the largest, Ladbroke Square Gardens, being one of the largest such gardens in London. In addition to gardens, the estate is organised around architectural focal points like St. Peter's Church and Stanley Crescent mentioned earlier, or St. John's Church, located at the top of the hill when viewed from the west.
A recently completed housing example, Portobello Square has created 1,000 new homes across several city blocks. Designed by PRP Architects, the development has already won various awards, including "Regeneration Project of the Year" at the 2019 RICS Awards. Bonchurch Road, in particular, is highly successful, reinterpreting a traditional townhouse typology with a terrace of slender-proportioned modern houses facing a tree-lined boulevard. The best vantage point for appreciating the area is from Layla's café on the corner of Bonchurch Road and Portobello Road.
28 Lansdowne Crescent
While the exterior may not be particularly eye-catching, architect Jeremy Lever's 1973 house at 28 Lansdowne Crescent is a Grade 2 listed building. The house filled a gap in the terrace and contains an intricately designed residence behind its unassuming façade.
St. Peter's Church & Stanley Crescent
Visible from the western end of Portobello Road, St. Peter's Church marks the eastern boundary of the Ladbroke estate on Kensington Park Road. Sporting a striking pale orange hue (a recently applied limewash intended to replicate the original Bath stone), the building boldly contrasts with the surrounding white stucco residences. Architect Thomas Allom designed the church in a classical style, and it was completed in 1857. It now holds a Grade 2 listing. From an urban perspective, the church creates a dramatic scene with the symmetrical turreted houses on Stanley Crescent opposite.
The Cosmic House
Opened as a museum in 2022, The Cosmic House was once the residence of architectural historian Charles Jencks, a cultural theorist, and landscape designer, and his wife Maggie Keswick Jencks, a writer, gardener, and designer. Following her cancer diagnosis in 1995, Keswick Jencks conceived the idea for better cancer care environments, leading to the establishment of Maggie's Centres after her death.
Constructed between 1978 and 1983, The Cosmic House features an eclectic mix of post-modern design and cosmic symbolism, created by some of the most prominent architects of the era – akin to a late 20th-century Soane's Museum. Located on Lansdowne Walk, tickets for entry sell out rapidly, so be sure to grab them when you can.
Notting Hill is a captivating area that seamlessly blends a rich architectural tapestry with its vibrant history and culture. From historic townhouses and modern residences to iconic landmarks, this neighbourhood offers an alluring assortment of architectural styles for enthusiasts to explore. Despite the tragic shadow cast by the Grenfell Tower fire, the spirit of Notting Hill remains resilient and enduring. As the area continues to evolve, it serves as a testament to the power of architecture in shaping communities and preserving the essence of a neighbourhood's identity. Whether you're a seasoned architecture lover or simply curious about the area's unique charm, Notting Hill is undoubtedly a captivating destination to visit and explore.