Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Town Hall, London

Sir Basil Spence
Date Built
Opened 31 May, 1977
Horton Street
Work began on the Kensington and Chelsea Town Hall in 1972 and the building was completed on November 29, 1976, ten days after Basil Spence died.  However, it wasn’t technically his last work because he was commissioned to design it in 1965 and completed the basic plan within a month.  David Walker, research fellow at the University of Warwick, describes the building in “Basil Spence: Architecture, Tradition & Modernity, 1907-1976”. 

“The Town Hall stands on an oblong site which slopes up gently from Kensington High Street. On three sides it is enclosed by rows of houses, and on the fourth – that nearest the High Street – by Vincent Harris’s neoclassical Library, built between 1957 and 1960. Amidst these surroundings the Town Hall is both a complementary and contrasting neighbour, answering them in its modest scale, matching the Library’s red Roman brickwork, and yet conspicuously modern in appearance, its long banded windows being tinted bronze. It is large enough to accommodate 1,500 of the Council’s staff, and also provides public halls and a civic suite, as well as extensive parking within the basement.  The Town Hall is laid out around a square courtyard plan in the interests of efficiency, although the modelling of the exterior elevations is so richly varied that this is far from obvious. Spence took advantage of the fall in the ground to arrange the double-height civic suite on the south side of the courtyard facing the Library, with committee rooms above and offices on the three other sides. The south elevation is framed by two boldly projecting structures: to the west the great hall, its brick walls rising absolutely blind with canted corners, and to the east the council chamber, also blind with canted corners, but raised up to first floor height on concrete columns. The former pool beneath the council chamber has been filled in, and planted with flowers. ....

... Open stairs between the hall and the council chamber lead up to the internal courtyard, which provides access to the Council departments. ...

... It was always Spence’s intention that this courtyard should serve as a relaxed alternative to the splendid reception foyers of more traditional town halls: it is suitable for outdoor civic gatherings, and a pleasant place for local people to relax, or simply cut through on their way to somewhere else.  The giant redwood in the centre of the courtyard was planted in memory of Sir Winston Churchill, a freeman of the Royal Borough.”  Interestingly, in a document published by the council they point out that in fact the tree was planted by Baroness Churchill in 1967 in memory of her husband.... “The tree was there first, and with Sir Winston popularly hailed as the greatest ever Briton, the Town Hall simply had to be built around it.”

The council also say that, “Renowned architect though he was, Sir Basil did make one serious miscalculation. The Town Hall is made from metric bricks that are longer and thinner than the usual kind. Sir Basil believed they would soon be universally adopted – but they weren’t. The Town Hall is the only building in the country made of them and the cost of replacement is likely to be painful.”