Jumping into a heated debate over preservation, public housing and classism, London’s Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) has acquired a full apartment and facade section from the demolished Robin Hood Gardens housing complex. V&A has offered to pay developer Swan Housing Association for part of the demolition in exchange for the salvaged portion. A much-lauded (and derided) brutalist experiment in public housing, Robin Hood Gardens’ snaking concrete blocks and elevated walkways wrapped around a core green space that was central to what designers Peter and Alison Smithson called “streets in the sky.” After campaigning by public activists, architects and preservationists, efforts to have the 1972 building listed as historically significant were repeatedly rebuked by estate officials. Neil Bingham, the V&A’s curator of contemporary architectural collections, emphasized the building’s legacy when describing why the museum had procured the pieces. He told the Guardian, “It is an important building by important architects. The Smithsons rather dominated the period, maybe not in number of buildings they did but in terms of the power of their thoughts on architecture." Measuring nearly 29 feet high, 18 feet wide and 26 feet deep, the salvaged piece is a full section that includes portions of the complex’s concrete stairs and “floating” walkways. A full street-level apartment with original cabinetry was also saved, meaning the museum can slot the interior portion within the facade and give visitors the experience of walking into Robin Hood Gardens firsthand. In the UK, the debate over public housing and the role of class in development has only intensified lately, with older public housing complexes either being torn down or “beautified” to improve the views of nearby market rate tenants. The Grenfell Tower fire in June brought questions of housing equity in London to the forefront, as over 70 lives were lost in what many have called a pointless recladding. Although the developer claims that the Robin Hood Gardens replacement will upgrade the number of units from 252 to 1,500, questions remain over how truly affordable these apartments will be. Christopher Turner, head of the V&A’s design, architecture and digital department, explained that Robin Hood Gardens’ importance lay not only in its architectural significance, but in its questioning of what public housing could be. “It is also an object that will stimulate debate around architecture and urbanism today. It raises important questions about the history and future of housing in Britain and what we want from our cities,” said Turner.
Posts tagged with "Robin Hood Gardens":
The Robin Hood Gardens public housing complex in East London has finally met the wrecking ball. After years of protests from locals, architects, and critics, local authorities at the Tower Hamlets council chose to ignore pleas for the Peter and Alison Smithson–designed project and demolish it to make way for a new development. Built in 1972, Robin Hood Gardens was the realization of the illustrious pair's "streets in the sky" concept. A Brutalist icon, its demolition was protested by architects Richard Rogers, the late Zaha Hadid, Robert Venturi, and Toyo Ito, as well as numerous critics including Jonathan Glancey who argued that the building should be turned into student housing. The Twentieth Century Society, too, also campaigned tirelessly for its listing which Heritage England rejected on the grounds that it was not architecturally significant. Situated by East India Quays, the housing complex was just a stone's throw from Canary Wharf, London's financial hub. In many ways, it was a fitting counter, stylistically and programmatically, and was a symbol of resistance. From inside the Robin Hood Gardens' green space—located between the two concrete blocks—the glass towers of Canary Wharf (such as One Canada Square ) could be seen poking over the housing units. Financial capital was seemingly stopped short of knocking down social housing. Except it did. Developer Swan Housing Association will be building Phase Three of "Blackwall Reach," a new housing complex that will see 1,575 new homes added. Three firms—Haworth Tompkins, who won the 2012 RIBA Stirling Prize, Metropolitan Workshop, and CF Møller—are involved. The new scheme will keep the grassy mound that defined the previous project and the new units will be "affordable" dwellings. In the U.K., however, "affordable" is a loose and often redundant term as it means units can be priced at up to 80 percent of the market rate. This means some apartments can cost $1,855 per month. Instead of destroying the Smithson's work, a better option would have been to emulate what Urban Splash did to Park Hill Estate, another Brutalist social housing icon in Sheffield. Here, units were spruced-up and drastically improved, while the local area maintained its post-war heritage. Alas, it is too late. Robin Hood Gardens is no more, and with it goes another icon of the egalitarian post-war principles that shaped Britain and London.
The clock is ticking yet again for East London’s Robin Hood Gardens, the 1972 Brutalist public housing complex designed by Alison and Peter Smithson. In a call to arms, Lord Richard Rogers and Simon Smithson, the son of the architects, have written a letter to over 300 members of the architecture and construction industries in support of the 20th Century Society’s campaign to protect the iconic “streets in the sky” buildings from being demolished. The future of the seminal social housing estate has been in limbo since former Culture Secretary Andy Burnham granted it a listing certificate of immunity six years ago, essentially foiling any landmark designations that would ensure the buildings’ survival and preservation. Now that the certificate has expired, 20th Century Society, a conservation organization for modern architecture, is urging the new Minister for Sport, Tourism and Heritage to add the buildings to the statutory list of buildings of special architectural and historical interest. “The Smithsons were clearly great architects: the Economist Building, completed in 1964 and Grade I-listed in 1988, is without a doubt the best modern building in the historic centre of London. Robin Hood Gardens, which pioneered ‘streets in the air’ to preserve the public life of the East End terraces that it replaced, was the next large-scale job that the Smithsons embarked upon. It was architecturally and intellectually innovative. In my opinion, it is the most important social housing development from the post-war era in Britain,” wrote Lord Richard Rogers in the letter. Composed of two long concrete blocks, the 7-story buildings in Poplar, London feature balconies that face a rolling, man-made green. Curbed reported that the goal was to “create a modern, bustling city in the sky,” but it has fallen into disrepair, beset with problems including crime and graffiti. Architects, including Zaha Hadid, Norman Foster, Richard Meier, and Rogers, stand behind the controversial postwar complex, lauding its architectural significance as an exemplar of the Smithsons’ New Brutalism—characterized by exposed materials, contextual design, and the marriage of regional styles and modernism. Below is the full letter from Lord Richard Rogers and Simon Smithson: Dear Friends, I am writing to ask you to support listing Robin Hood Gardens as a building of special architectural interest, in order to protect one of Britain’s most important post-war housing projects, designed by Alison and Peter Smithson, from demolition. Previous efforts in 2009 to have the building listed failed, but the case has now been re-opened and we understand that the new Minister for Sport, Tourism and Heritage will be reviewing the arguments at the end of this week. The buildings, which offer generously-sized flats that could be refurbished, are of outstanding architectural quality and significant historic interest, and public appreciation and understanding of the value of modernist architecture has grown over the past five years, making the case for listing stronger than ever. The UK's 20th Century Society has submitted a paper setting out why they believe Robin Hood Gardens should be listed (i.e. added it to the statutory list of buildings of special architectural and historical interest). Two further assessments are set out below: “Alison and Peter Smithson were the inventors of the New Brutalism in the 1950s and as such they were the ‘bellwethers of the young' as Reyner Banham called them. In many ways [Robin Hood Gardens] epitomizes the Smithsons’ ideas of housing and city building. Two sculptural slabs of affordable housing create the calm and stress free place amidst the ongoing modernization of the London cityscape. The façades of precast concrete elements act as screens that negotiate between the private sphere of the individual flats and the collective space of the inner garden and beyond. The rhythmic composition of vertical fins and horizontal ’streets-in-the-air' articulates the Smithsons’ unique proposition of an architectural language that combines social values with modern technology and material expression. Despite the current state of neglect and abuse Robin Hood Gardens comprises a rare, majestic gesture, both radical and generous in its aspiration for an architecture of human association. As such it still sets an example for architects around the world.” Dr Dirk van den Heuvel, Delft University, Holland. “The Smithsons were clearly great architects: the Economist Building, completed in 1964 and Grade I-listed in 1988, is without a doubt the best modern building in the historic centre of London. Robin Hood Gardens, which pioneered ‘streets in the air’ to preserve the public life of the East End terraces that it replaced, was the next large-scale job that the Smithsons embarked upon. It was architecturally and intellectually innovative. In my opinion, it is the most important social housing development from the post-war era in Britain.” Lord Richard Rogers Last time listing was considered the views of the architectural community were ignored but we believe there is now a real chance of saving the building for posterity but only if the Minister hears, first hand, the views of the profession on the architectural merits of these exceptional buildings. Can we ask you to support the efforts of the 20th Century Society by writing right now to the Minster to support listing and saying why you believe Robin Hood Gardens should be saved? Click here to open an e-mail to the relevant Minister at the Department for Culture Media and Sport, Tracey Crouch MP: Ministerfirstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on the building click here, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robin_Hood_Gardens, and for details of the 20th Century Society case, please click here, http://www.c20society.org.uk/casework/robin-hood-gardens/ For Tweets: #SaveRobinHoodGardens Also, can we ask you to forward this e-mail to anyone else you know who might be willing to help save these important buildings? Yours sincerely, Richard Rogers and Simon Smithson
What do the English have against works produced by members of the Independent Group? The loose post–World War II group of artists, architects, writers, and critics produced public art, gallery installations, and even architecture. On this side of the Atlantic we always think the Brits save their landmarks—unlike the American tendency to tear them down before they can be landmarked. But early this year Transport for London destroyed Eduardo Paolozzi’s playful and colorful mosaics that stood over the entrance to the Tottenham Court Road tube station. Now it seems that local authorities will destroy one of the countries best-known housing developments-Alison and Peter Smithson’s 1972 Robin Hood Gardens in Tower Hamlets near the Docklands development in London’s East End. Housing authorities in the English capital have been trying to demolish the 213 unit affordable housing project for many years and despite lack of maintenance in the project since 2000 and several high profile attempts to save and preserve the project it still seems doomed. But now another last minute push is being made to save Robin Hood by the lobbying group the Twentieth Century Society. They have challenged the listing—or landmarking—process as “flawed” and thus the building should be saved. According to British magazine The Architect’s Journal, Richard Rogers has thrown his support behind the effort to save the complex saying, “Robin Hood Gardens is one of a handful of great low-cost housing estates. It was a world-shaking building but it’s been looked after appallingly. Whatever anyone says, I don’t know of better modern architects than the Smithson’s: they were certainly outstanding.” Lets hope this significant housing project can be saved.
Vox populi. Complaining just got easier for neighborhood watchdogs in NYC. This week Mayor Bloomberg announced that building permits posted at construction sites will soon have QR (Quick Response) codes that can be scanned by smart phones. A wave of the wrist will bring up all the particulars of the construction site online and allow passers-by to report anything amiss or just find out more about project. More details about digitization of the buildings department on the mayor's website. Gardens grows. The Architect's Journal reports that Aedas, Glenn Howells, and Jestico + Whiles have been selected to design the replacement for Robin Hood Gardens housing complex in east London. The plan for the £500 million development includes the demolition of the early 1970s buildings designed by Alison and Peter Smithson. Midlife crisis. Owners of mid-century modern homes in Massachusetts are retrofitting aging residences designed by TAC and other firms, equipping them for the future and saving them from the wrecking ball in the process, writes Kathleen Burge in the Boston Globe. Before and after, epic version. Web Urbanist presents the rise of the modern metropolis through a series of eye-popping images. (Shenzen, China wins for most dramatic transformation, while New York 1954 and New York 2009 look eerily similar.)
Synthetic Forests. BldgBlog uncovered a series of aerial photos of Dutch tree farms by artist Gerco de Ruijter. Called Baumschule, the pristine man-made geometry overlaid upon nature is really quite stunning. Saving Robin Hood. One of the first brutalist buildings in London by the Smithsons could be saved from demolition and converted into modern family townhomes. BD Online reports that a proposal by Sarah Wigglesworth Architects plans new units on the roof. Completing Indy. A proposed "complete streets" bill for the Indiana Department of Transportation is currently being considered that would require a multimodal approach to transportation design and could be a be a coup for pedestrians and cyclists. Urban Indy has the details, including a potential loophole. Urban Playoffs. There's an ideological battle fermenting between the forces behind New Urbanism and newcomer Landscape Urbanism. The Boston Globe details the differences between the two and the latest on the battle of the urban minds.