Kensington isn’t all about shopping on the King’s Road and ladies who lunch. Ana Zoria, from Monitise Group, introduces the alternative sights of the district on this unconventional tour…
There is a difference between tourists and travellers. Tourists are those who are on a ‘tour’, they tend have this ‘I’m on vacay’ attitude. Travellers, though, are curious, they seek to understand and experience the local vibe, culture, behaviour and perceptions. They want to know what it’s like to be part of the place they are visiting. Therefore, on your trip to the borough of Chelsea and Kensington don’t limit yourself to taking a few snaps at The Natural History Museum, learn more about the district’s life by exploring something unconventional.
Within the fairly safe streets of London’s trendy Notting Hill, sulking above its rainbow coloured houses, lurking behind elegant garden squares and élite antique boutiques there is something rather contradictory. Equally loved and despised by locals, you will find a striking tower of bleak concrete. The Trellick Tower is an obscure memorial to Brutalist architecture, surrounded by some odd community gardens and followed by the canal, where people live their lives afloat on so-called narrow boats. North Kensington is not as affluent as South, but it’s has an unpretentious soul, plus you have more chances of finding cheaper accommodation, especially if you use a discount site like this.
Close by is Chelsea which, like many other Victorian London districts, is famous for its grandiose, predominantly four or five storey townhouses. Therefore, the bleak tower surrounded with wildlife ponds looks like a creepy invader, rising above the sugary-white doll houses with tidy garden squares. Reluctantly, the question arises: “Who on earth would build such a beast in this lavishly – snobbish corner of London?”
That answer to that question is dedicated modernist, Ernő Goldfinger. The man who felt the city and who understood that people, the same way as underground or the road infrastructure, are a part of it. He saw London’s growing population density and created an urban construction using the available space. It’s a very functional building: the elevator and utilities are detached from it, keeping the noise away. Despite its poor outside appearance, the general feeling inside building’s flats is relaxing and cosy. The apartments look like houses – as you step in off the raised street into an airy hall, you straight away notice the natural light floating from one side to another. There is no usual narrow corridor, and every apartment has a balcony.
Being a child of the ’80s born in East Europe, I feel nostalgic walking around the Trellick Tower laundrettes. I know how these bleak, possibly unattractive blocks, can make great community centres. And so does Sand Helsel, now a Professor of Architecture at RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia. I remember coming here years ago, to a going away party, invited by some friends who lived in the flats’, recalled Sand, in the BBC documentary, Building Sights, whilst rambling happily through the now abandoned laundrettes, ‘There were oysters and champagne lying on crushed ice on the dryer.’
It’s hard to imagine that Brutalist buildings, such as this one, were supposed to symbolise the future back in the days. As population rapidly grew and demanded more living space, design features were seen as unnecessary, and all the attention was focused on developments’ functionality. While London’s already grey climate surely adds drama to the rough concrete, you might get that feeling like you’re walking around something hazardous and quite revolting. But, try and see it the way you see conceptual art; unlike the classic Canaletto masterpiece, it’s often uneasy on the eye. But don’t judge the Trellick tower purely on its aesthetics – try to see the idea behind it.
After you’re done with admiring the mighty tower, check out another fantastic experiment aimed at bringing societies closer together called Meanwhile Gardens. The gardens surrounding the tower, were supposed to be a temporary project – that’s where the name ‘Meanwhile’ came from. Set up beside the Grand Union Canal, it’s an unperturbed, densely planted green area. Although, it looks like it could have occurred naturally, it was actually created by the community workers in the seventies, right over the old wasteland. The space has many characteristics missing in most modern parks: a non-urban wildlife garden across the ponds, as well as the famous skateboard ‘pit’ – which formed the hub of the neighbourhood’s skateboarders’ community. It not only performs its original function, it also brings some contrasting greenery to the bold concrete. Meanwhile Gardens is a great secret spot if you want to avoid the tourist crowds and take a tranquil walk by the canal, which has its own unique floating community.
Not many can afford a property in Central London, but is it just that, which pushes one or two, or even a whole crew of people, to live their life on a narrowboat? Imagine waking up every morning to the calls of London ducks and geese, stretching your arms while still in bed and trying not to hit the walls on both sides. As you can see, the canals in London are quite narrow, and the boats are evidently made to fit the size. Back in the days, the narrow boats and the canal system was the Industrial Revolution’s first major mass-transportation system, long before the trains and the railways. Today, it’s a hipster’s paradise: if you walk all the way up to the Maida Vale, you will surely bump into a little ‘boat-terrace’ party, find some dog houses on the deck, hammocks and mini herb gardens on the roofs. The boat inhabitants are usually very open-minded and easy going, they tend to moor in groups forming small, tight knit communities. ‘I love the confinement and I really don’t need anything bigger, I find it snuggly,’ says Emma, one of the boat owners, who also works from home as a freelancer. ‘It makes you feel safe and concentrates the creative process’, she adds.
At first, the boat-flat seems pretty stuffy, but after spending a bit of time around the canal you will soon realise that the outside space makes up for it. The canal residents spend a lot of time outside, often together, and the boat just gives them some space for solitude when it’s needed. There are a few sweet spots where you could finish your romantic canal tour with a couple of drinks and a snack. On a sunny day check out the Union Tavern or The Waterway, both places have cosy gardens overlooking the canal, or grab Chinese at Feng Shang. Chill out watching the narrowboats passing only a couple of meters away, maybe next summer you will feel a little adventurous and rent one and try life on the canal for yourself.
Six years ago Ana arrived in London to study Journalism. The degree taught her to speak not only acutely and informatively, but also to produce content which is both useful and inspiring to her readers. Ana believes life is about experiencing things and that every experience helps one grow and develop. She enjoys writing about highlights of her adventures in life, which are often related to the city where she is lives. She now works in the Press and Content division of Monitise Group.