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Council backs contentious Robin Hood Gardens plan

Tower Hamlets Council has unanimously approved Horden Cherry Lee and Aedas’ controversial £500 million project to redevelop Robin Hood Gardens in Poplar, east London

The outline plans for the huge residential scheme, known as Blackwall Reach, will see the demolition of the 1970s Alison and Peter Smithson-designed housing estate as part of the project’s second phase.

Last month the proposals, which will create nearly 1,600 new homes, came in for heavy criticism from DC CABE which claimed elements of the masterplan ‘lacked a clear logic’.

However the Homes and Communities Agency, which is backing the scheme alongside Swan Housing and Countryside Properties, hit back saying the design watchdog had not looked at the most recent plans which included a ‘comprehensive design coding’ and said that its concerns over the imbalance of small homes over large family units ‘was completely unfounded’ (see bottom).  

Future generations, as well as previous tenants, will lament its loss

The design team will now look at drawing up detailed plans for the first phase. A second phase, which includes the replacement for the Smithson’s Brutalist 1970s landmark, will follow - potentially including a design competition.

The news was met with ‘bitter disappointment’ by the Twentieth Century Society which has battled to try and save the 1970s block. A spokeswoman said: ‘Instead of flattening and re-developing the site,  the refurbishment and upgrading of Robin Hood Gardens could provide a sustainable opportunity for the estate to continue to provide good quality homes.

‘The Estate is an outstanding example of the work of one of the most internationally celebrated and influential architectural partnerships of the twentieth century.

She added: ‘The recent film by Chad Freidrichs which reassesses the most demonised example of post war housing, the Pruitt- Igoe development in St Louis , Missouri, is an interesting parallel. Flattened in 1972  after years of neglect,  the 1950s  estate is now being reassessed, and the Pruitt-Igoe Myth challenged. Similarly the demolition of Robin Hood Gardens is premature.

‘Future generations, as well as previous tenants, will lament its loss.’

Previous story (AJ 15.02.2012)

DC CABE slams contentious Robin Hood Gardens plan

Design Council CABE has attacked Horden Cherry Lee’s controversial £500 million project to redevelop Robin Hood Gardens in Poplar, east London

The goverment’s design watchdog urged the development team to rethink the proposed 1,700 home replacement for the 1970s Alison and Peter Smithson-designed housing estate and called for changes to the green spaces and tall buildings strategies.

In its recent review dated 3 February, the panel said Horden Cherry Lee’s masterplan lacked a clear logic’ in its definition of ‘blocks, spaces and routes’ and that its open spaces appeared ‘fractured’ and ‘likely to be overshadowed by the tall residential blocks’.

Cotton Street which runs along the scheme’s western edge should become the ‘principal, urban road where activities should be concentrated’ according to DC CABE. The organisation urged the developer, the local authority and Transport for London to ‘slow down traffic and to civilise’ the thoroughfare.

The report complained that he scheme’s proposed arrangement of green spaces ‘takes away potential generosity’ and leaves limited ‘usability of the left-over spaces’.

It warned that a proposed large space required activity to make it safe and urged the project team to ‘explore in more detail how the individual spaces will work’.

DC CABE questioned whether proposed tall buildings at the site’s southern edge on Aspen Way would work ‘well together’.

Proposed tall buildings at the north end could also have a ‘detrimental impact on the whole of East India Dock Road’ the report added.

It said: ‘A convincing case needs to be made for the amount of development and the height of the buildings.’

Named Blackwall Reach, the regeneration scheme, pursued in partnership with developers Swan Housing Association and Countryside Properties, would feature 700 socially rent and shared ownership homes alongside public realm improvements.

Horden Cherry Lee prepared the outline planning application with Aedas, which is working for Swan and Countryside. The developers are expected to submit an Aedas-designed detailed planning application for part of the scheme.

A planning application for the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) and Tower Hamlets Council-backed scheme was submitted last month.

The Twentieth Century Society led a long campaign to save the buildings however culture secretary Andy Burnham granted the existing, Brutalist buildings a five-year ‘immunity from listing’ in 2009.

Response in full from the HCA

‘These [design review] comments from DC CABE are old and were made before we had worked up the Design Code for the scheme.  As such, they do not recognise any of the subsequent work that took place to develop a very comprehensive design coding, within which are embedded responses to their previously raised concerns.

1. The structure of the open spaces across the site.  This aspect of the masterplan has been, and will continue to be, developed in collaboration with the local community who unanimously informed us that they wanted the new scheme to have a green heart. The community was also very positive about creating other courtyard areas, to provide more intimate environments for leisure and recreation.  

The new masterplan will provide much more public open space than exist at the moment and deliver a significant enhancement in the quality, accessibility and functionality of the whole public realm.

2. Cotton Street. Subsequent to the meeting with CABE last summer, the masterplan does address the criticisms regarding Cotton Street.  However, given that this is an outline planning application, this may not be apparent from a quick perusal of the documentation.

The Design Code for the new scheme looks to ensure that as much emphasis as possible is given to activating Cotton Street, recognising however that it is a very busy road and it is important not to compromise the quality of and activity in the central park. Discussions are on-going with Transport for London on what could be done to and around Cotton Street to make it a more pedestrian friendly environment.

3Tall Towers and concern over imbalance of Small Units over Large Units.  This concern is completely unfounded. The development will deliver 50 per cent affordable housing (by habitable room) and provides a high proportion of family units, which are concentrated on the lower floors around the courtyards and areas of green, open space.
Tower Hamlets has made it clear from the outset that a key objective for them has been the delivery of family units and this is explicit in the submitted planning application.
With the land being in public ownership, this has provided the opportunity to ensure the delivery of a much higher proportion of larger family units than would usually be the case.

 

Readers' comments (3)

  • I for one will be sad to see Robin Hood Gardens go. It always struck me as a failure of policy and investment, rather than a failure of architecture.

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  • JustFacades.com

    hooray

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  • The Homes and Communities Agency comments look similar to other statements made by this government when their favoured strategy is challenged: "The experts don't know what they are talking about, we know best, this is what the people want, and anyone who disagrees is a liar."

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