Robin Hood Gardens
Robin Hood Gardens is a council housing complex in Poplar, London designed in the late 1960s by architects Alison and Peter Smithson and completed in 1972. It was intended as an example of the 'streets in the sky' concept: social housing characterised by broad aerial walkways in long concrete blocks, much like the Park Hill estate in Sheffield; it was both informed by, and a reaction against, Le Corbusier's Unité d'Habitation.
The estate is owned by Tower Hamlets Council. It covers about two hectares and consists of two long blocks, one of ten storeys, the other of seven, built from precast concrete slabs and containing 213 flats, surrounding a landscaped green area and a small hill made from construction spoil. The flats themselves are a mixture of single-storey apartments and two-storey maisonettes, with wide balconies (the 'streets') on every third floor. The complex is located near Blackwall DLR station. It is within sight of the nearby Balfron Tower; both are highly visible examples of Brutalist architecture.
Following the approval of a redevelopment scheme as part of a wider local regeneration project in 2012, demolition of the estate began in 2013. An earlier attempt, supported by a number of notable architects, to head off redevelopment by getting the estate listed status, was rejected by the government in 2009.
A campaign was mounted in 2008 by Building Design magazine and the Twentieth Century Society to get Robin Hood Gardens listed as a historical landmark in order to save it from destruction, with support from Richard Rogers and Zaha Hadid; the latter counts it as her favourite building in London. However, English Heritage did not back the proposal, with its commissioners overruling the advice of its own advisory committee. This was because it did not fully meet the strict criteria for listing post-war buildings, and because the building had suffered serious shortcomings from the start, as the designers had been forced to compromise on issues including the width of the access decks.
The campaign to save Robin Hood Gardens drew very little support from those who actually had to live in the building, with more than 75% of residents supporting its demolition when consulted by the local authority.
In May 2009 the Minister of Culture, Andy Burnham, reiterated an earlier government decision not to list the estate and also granted a Certificate of Immunity from listing, meaning that the structure could not be reconsidered for listing for at least 5 years. This ministerial decision endorsed the recommendation of English Heritage that Robin Hood Gardens "fails as a place for human beings to live" and did not deserve statutory heritage protection, leaving the way open for Tower Hamlets Council to proceed with its demolition and redevelopment.
A resident's own survey, published in Building Design in June 2009, found that 80% of residents wanted it refurbished. In October 2009, opposition councillor Tim Archer accused the Council of ignoring maintenance problems to encourage residents to move out.
The Council has declared the site part of a larger regeneration area named Blackwall Reach, bounded by East India Dock Road to the north, the Blackwall Tunnel Northern Approach (A102) and East India Docks to the east, Aspen Way to the south and Cotton Street to the west. It plans to provide 1,600 new homes in this area along with improvements to the primary school, a new park and other community facilities.
In April 2010, Tower Hamlets shortlisted groups of architects, housing associations and developers to undertake the £500 million project. Before the final announcement, the designs for replacement buildings were condemned in The Observer as "generic developers' fare, with... no sense of place".
Swan Housing Association was selected, with a plan to replace the current 252 homes with up to 1,700, of which 700 would be for social housing and shared ownership. It would also include open space, community facilities, and better connections to the surrounding area. The demolition plans were passed by Tower Hamlets Council on 15 March 2012. Following final planning approval for the redevelopment scheme in December 2012, demolition itself began in April 2013.
The Smithsons on their work
Although Peter Smithson admitted he had been driven by a combination of urgency, practicality and idealism, he claimed in a 1990s interview that the project had failed, although he largely blamed social issues rather than architectural ones for this failure.
"In other places you see doors painted and pot plants outside houses, the minor arts of occupation, which keep the place alive. In Robin Hood you don't see this because if someone were to put anything out it people will break it."
Asked why he felt this was the case, Smithson cited 'social jealousy', he then went on to say,
"The week it opened, people would shit in the lifts, which is an act of social aggression."
- Building Design campaign to save Robin Hood Gardens, Building Design, 21 February 2008
- Don't knock brutalism, Guardian, 26 June 2008
- Evening Standard Magazine, 18 May 2012
- English Heritage fails to back Robin Hood Gardens, Building Design, 8 May 2008
- Robin Hood Gardens: The videos for and against, Building Design, April 2009
- Row over 'street in sky' estate, BBC, 7 March 2008
- Hill, John (2009-05-15). "Robin Hood Gardens not to be listed". Wharf. Retrieved 2013-07-06.
- New Robin Hood Gardens residents survey challenges demolition, Building Design, 26 June 2009. Retrieved 2010-03-27
- "Council running down Robin Hood Gardens" Building Design, 2009-09-25. Retrieved 2010-03-27
- Blackwall Reach at English Partnerships website (2008)
- Homes boost will transform estates, Tower Hamlets Council, 6 July 2009
- More vie to redevelop Robin Hood Gardens, Building Design, 23 April 2010
- Rowan Moore, Robin Hood Gardens: don't knock it… down, The Observer, 3 December 2010.
- Kvist, Else (9 January 2012). "1960s housing estate, Robin Hood Gardens, to be transformed". Docklands & East London Advertiser. Retrieved 13 January 2012.
- Simmonds, Carl (2013-05-30). "Robin Hood Gardens". Architectuul. Retrieved 2013-07-06.
- Klettner, Andrea (2013-04-19). "Demolition starts at Robin Hood Gardens site | News | Building Design". Bdonline.co.uk. Retrieved 2013-07-06.
- Sukhdev Sandhu "You're Human Like The Rest Of Them – the NFT's celebration of BS Johnson", telegraph.co.uk, 16 June 2009
- Rebuilding Britain for the Baby Boomers, introduced by Maxwell Hutchinson, BBC Radio 4, 26 November 2011
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Robin Hood Gardens.|
- Reflections on Robin Hood Gardens and Brutalist Architecture in East London
- Meet the Smithsons
- Information from the Twentieth Century Society on the campaign to protect Robin Hood Gardens
- The Brutalist Truth, TheThirdEstate.net, 24 May 2009