Alison and Peter Smithson

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Alison and Peter Smithson
Peter and Alison Smithson in 1990
Born(1928-06-22)22 June 1928
(1923-09-18)18 September 1923
Sheffield, Yorkshire, England
Stockton-on-Tees, England
Died16 August 1993(1993-08-16) (aged 65)
3 March 2003(2003-03-03) (aged 79)
London, England
London, England
Robin Hood Gardens housing complex, Poplar, East London, completed 1972

Alison Margaret Smithson (22 June 1928 – 14 August 1993) and Peter Denham Smithson (18 September 1923 – 3 March 2003) were English architects who together formed an architectural partnership, and are often associated with the New Brutalism, especially in architectural and urban theory.[1][2]

Education and personal lives[edit]

Peter was born in Stockton-on-Tees in County Durham, north-east England,[3] and Alison Margaret Gill was born in Sheffield, West Riding of Yorkshire.[4]

Alison studied architecture at King's College, Durham in Newcastle (later the Newcastle University School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape), then part of the University of Durham, between 1944 and 1949. Peter studied architecture at the same university between 1939 and 1948, along with a programme in the Department of Town Planning, also at King's, between 1946 and 1948.[5] His studies were interrupted by war, and from 1942 he served in the Madras Sappers and Miners in India and Burma.[3]

Peter and Alison had met at Durham, and they married in 1949. In the same year they both joined the architecture department of the London County Council as Temporary Technical Assistants before establishing their own partnership in 1950.[6]

Of their three children, Simon, Samantha and Soraya,[3] one, Simon, is an architect.[7]

Alison Smithson published a novel A Portrait of the Female Mind as a Young Girl in 1966.[8]


Hunstanton School

The Smithsons first came to prominence with Hunstanton School, Norfolk completed in 1954, which used some of the language of high modernist Ludwig Mies van der Rohe but in a stripped back way, with rough finishes and a deliberate lack of refinement that kept architectural structure and services exposed.[9] They are arguably among the leaders of the British school of New Brutalism. They referred to New Brutalism as "an ethic, not an aesthetic".[10] It was a "brute" injunction to social relevance, “an attempt to be objective about ‘reality’”, its aim to “drag a rough poetry out of the confused and powerful forces which are at work.” [11] Their work sought to connect architecture with what they viewed as the realities of modern life in post-war Britain.[12] Their definitions and interpretation of Brutalism put them at odds with their contemporary Reyner Banham,[13] an architecture critic known for his work in defining the stylistic components of New Brutalism.[14] Alison Smithson articulated their desire to connect building, users, and site when, describing architecture as an act of "form-giving", she noted: "My act of form-giving has to invite the occupiers to add their intangible quality of use."[15] As such, they turned against the formal unity of classical proportion and symmetry, governed by principles of geometry, to instead fashion architecture on the topological principle of "form in process" or "deforming form," governed by qualities of circulation, penetration, and thresholds, as most especially evident in their Robin Hood Gardens scheme.[16] After the critical success of Hunstanton School, they were associated with Team X and its 1953 revolt against old Congrès International d'Architecture Moderne (CIAM) philosophies of high modernism.

Among their early contributions were 'streets in the sky' in which traffic and pedestrian circulation were rigorously separated, a theme popular in the 1960s. They were members of the Independent Group participating in the 1953 Parallel of Life and Art exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Arts and This Is Tomorrow in 1956. Throughout their career they published their work energetically, including their several unbuilt schemes, giving them a profile, at least among other architects, out of proportion to their relatively modest output.

Peter Smithson's teaching activity included the participation for many years at the ILAUD workshops together with fellow architect Giancarlo De Carlo.

National Life Stories conducted an oral history interview (C467/24) with Peter Smithson in 1997 for its Architects Lives' collection held by the British Library.[17]

Built projects[edit]

Garden building, St Hilda's College, Oxford (1968)

Their built projects include:

Robin Hood Gardens was under construction when B. S. Johnson made a short film about the couple for the BBC, The Smithsons on Housing (1970). Sukhdev Sandhu, in a blog entry for the London Telegraph website, wrote that "they drone in self-pitying fashion about vandals and local naysayers to such an extent that any traces of visionary utopianism are extinguished."[21] The finished flats suffered from high costs associated with the system selected and from high levels of crime, all of which undermined the modernist vision of 'streets in the sky' and the Smithsons' architectural reputation.[22] In 2017, with the flats set to be demolished, a three-storey section including a walkway and maisonette interiors was acquired by the Victoria and Albert Museum.[20]

They would go on to design several buildings at Bath, while relying mainly on private overseas commissions and Peter Smithson's writing and teaching (he was a visiting professor at Bath from 1978 to 1990, and also a unit master at the Architectural Association School of Architecture).

Unbuilt proposals[edit]

Their unbuilt schemes include:


  • Crinson, Mark, Alison and Peter Smithson, Historic England, 2018
  • Boyer, Christine M., Not Quite Architecture. Writing around Alison and Peter Smithson, Cambridge MA, The MIT Press, 2018
  • Henley, Simon (2017) Brutalism Redefined, RIBA Publications; ISBN 978-185-946-5776
  • Powers, Alan (September 2008) 'Casework' The Twentieth Century Society: Robin Hood Gardens
  • Risselada, Max; van den Heuvel, Dirk (2005) Team 10: In Search of a Utopia of the Present, NAi Publishers, Rotterdam, 320 pages. ISBN 90-5662-471-7
  • Van den Heuvel, Dirk, Risselada, Max (eds.), Alison and Peter Smithson. From the House of the Future to a House of Today, 010 Publishers, Rotterdam, 2004 ISBN 90-6450-528-4
  • A.R.Emili, Pure and simple, the Architecture of New Brutalism, Ed. Kappa, Rome 2008[23]
  • Webster, Helena (ed.), Modernism without Rhetoric. Essays on the Work of Alison and Peter Smithson, Academy Editions, London, 1997
  • Vidotto, Marco, A+P Smithson. Pensieri, progetti e frammenti fino al 1990, Genova, Sagep Editrice, 1991
  • Thoburn, Nicholas, Brutalism as Found: Housing, Form and Crisis at Robin Hood Gardens, Goldsmiths Press, 2022; ISBN 978-191-338-0045


  • Smithson, Alison. A Portrait of the Female Mind As a Young Girl: A Novel. Chatto & Windus, 1966.
  • Smithson, Alison, and Peter Smithson. Urban Structuring : Studies. Reinhold U.a, 1967.
  • Smithson, Alison, and Peter Smithson (with foreword by Nikolaus Pevsner). The Euston Arch and the growth of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway, Thames & Hudson 1968.
  • Smithson, Alison, and Peter Smithson. Ordinariness and Light: Urban Theories, 1952–1960. MIT Press, 1970.
  • Smithson, Alison, and Peter Smithson. Without Rhetoric: An Architectural Aesthetic, 1955–1972. M.I.T. Press, 1974.
  • Smithson, Alison, and Peter Smithson. The Heroic Period of Modern Architecture. Rizzoli, 1981.
  • Smithson, Alison, and Peter Smithson. The Charged Void: Architecture. Monacelli Press, 2001.
  • Smithson, Alison, and Peter Smithson. The Charged Void: Urbanism. Monacelli Press, 2004.


  • Smithson, Alison, and Peter Smithson. “Density, Interval and Measure.” Ekistics, vol. 25, no. 147, 1968, pp. 70–72.
  • Smithson, Alison, and Peter Smithson. “The New Brutalism.” October, vol. 1, no. 136, 2011, pp. 37–37.


  1. ^ Alison and Peter Smithson, Design Museum Archived 24 November 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ Peter & Alison Smithson – Open University
  3. ^ a b c Rowntree, Diana (8 March 2003). "Obituary: Peter Smithson". The Guardian. Retrieved 15 August 2017.
  4. ^ Banham, Mary (18 August 1993). "Obituary: Alison Smithson". The Independent. Archived from the original on 4 February 2015. Retrieved 15 August 2017.
  5. ^ Smithson, Peter and Alison. 2001. pg.19–20
  6. ^ Morgan, Ann Lee (1987). Contemporary Architects, Second Edition. Chicago and London: St. James Press. pp. 851. ISBN 0-912289-26-0.
  7. ^ Interview: Simon Smithson | Features | Building Design
  8. ^ van den Heuvel, Dirk; Risselada, Max, eds. (2004). Alison and Peter Smithson: From the House of the Future to a House of Today. Exposiciones. 010 Publishers. p. 233. ISBN 978-90-6450-528-7. Retrieved 16 January 2023.
  9. ^ Davies, Colin (2017). A New History of Modern Architecture. London: Laurence King Publishing. p. 276. ISBN 978-1-78627-056-6.
  10. ^ Davies, Colin (2017). A New History of Modern Architecture. London: Laurence King Publishing. p. 277. ISBN 978-1-78627-056-6.
  11. ^ Smithson, Alison and Peter (April 1957). "The New Brutalism". Architectural Design.
  12. ^ Goodwin, Dario (22 June 2017). "Spotlight: Alison and Peter Smithson".
  13. ^ Van den Heuvel, Dirk (March 2015). "Between Brutalists. The Banham Hypothesis and the Smithson Way of Life". The Journal of Architecture: 293–308 – via ResearchGate.
  14. ^ Reyner, Banham (December 1955). "The New Brutalism". The Architectural Review.
  15. ^ Morgan, Ann Lee (1987). Contemporary Architects. Chicago and London: St. James Press. pp. 853. ISBN 0-912289-26-0.
  16. ^ THOBURN, NICHOLAS (2022). BRUTALISM AS FOUND : housing, form, and crisis at robin hood gardens. [S.l.]: GOLDSMITH PR LTD. ISBN 978-1-913380-04-5. OCLC 1299142415.
  17. ^ National Life Stories, 'Smithson, Peter (1 of 19) National Life Stories Collection: Architects' Lives', The British Library Board, 1997. Retrieved 10 April 2018
  18. ^ Historic England. "SMITHDON SCHOOL INCLUDING MAIN BLOCK WATER TOWER WORKSHOPS AND KITCHENS, Hunstanton (1077909)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 11 November 2017.
  19. ^ "The Buildings". St Hilda's College, Oxford. Archived from the original on 2 July 2019. Retrieved 10 February 2020.
  20. ^ a b Brown, Mark (9 November 2017). "V&A acquires segment of Robin Hood Gardens council estate". Guardian. Retrieved 7 October 2019.
  21. ^ Sandhu, Sukhdev (16 June 2009). "B.S. Johnson, Brutalist". 3:AM Magazine. cross-posted from blogs. Retrieved 19 January 2019.
  22. ^ Alison and Peter Smithson, Design Museum. Archived 24 November 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  23. ^ Emili, Anna Rita (2008). Pure and simple, the architecture of New Brutalism (Kappa ed.). Rome: Kappa. p. 252. ISBN 9788878908888.


  • Smithson, Alison and Peter (2001). The Charged Void: Architecture. New York City: Monacelli Press, Inc. ISBN 1-58093-050-6.

External links[edit]