Toby Johnson of Haworth Tompkins and Neil Deely of Metropolitan Workshop speak about their plans to replace the Smithsons’ much-admired Robin Hood Gardens
How does it feel to be working on this project and this well-known site?
’We are delighted. Blackwall Reach is an area that has been blighted, first by wartime bombing, the decline of the docks and finally by clumsy transport planning. The regeneration proposals are of a scale that can fix some of those hostile aspects of the site and introduce an urban model that is more integrated with its context.
’There is clearly a huge weight of responsibility in designing buildings on the site of Robin Hood Gardens. We respect the legacy of the Smithsons and are acutely aware of the controversy. The loss of Robin Hood Gardens can only be justified in terms of the social benefits that the wider project can bring. We believe our involvement demonstrates the development partner’s commitment to quality.’
What are you hoping to achieve at Blackwall Reach?
’To create a sustainable community at Blackwall Reach that has a strong sense of identity. Residents we have spoken to are very fond of the green space and it is part of the reason why they want to come back.
‘The relative tranquillity of Millennium Green is a valuable asset that should be preserved. There will be a wide variety of dwelling types which correspond to the needs of existing residents and the local demographic.’
Robin Hood Gardens - site plan
How are you going to mark or remember the Smithsons’ buildings?
’We are working on that. We are interested in the geometrical positioning of the original buildings, and of course the relief provided by the central space.’
Do you understand why people feel so strongly about keeping the existing blocks?
’We fully understand why some people feel strongly about keeping Robin Hood Gardens and like many other architects we respect and admire much brutalist architecture.’
Have you considered how, if at all, the existing structures could be kept - for instance as has been done at Park Hill in Sheffield?
‘This, for all the reasons well debated to date, did not form part of our brief. We appreciate the technical and financial challenges that the retention of the existing buildings would have presented and in particular the limitations it would place on the potential of the site to deliver the wider aspirations of the regeneration plan.’
We fully understand why some people feel strongly about keeping Robin Hood Gardens
What do the people who already live on the estate want?
’We have spoken to local residents on many occasions, going back to our initial involvement in 2013 when the masterplan was being reviewed. What they tell us, is that they don’t want to leave the area behind, they like the green space at the heart of the scheme, but they want good quality new homes, with good space standards and low fuel bills.
’They also want to be able to control their own environment, in a way they cannot at the moment, so consumer heating controls and openable windows are important considerations. A lot of them have also asked for a view of the open space from their new home.’
How are you intending to keep the social mix on the site?
’All 214 of the homes currently in Robin Hood Gardens are going to be reprovided for local residents, many of whom have already moved into new homes in Phase 1a, and others who will move into Phase 2.
’50 per cent of the new accommodation (by habitable room) will be affordable.
’Tenure alternates block by block across the Phase 2 proposals. In addition we have split the design of the blocks between the two architect practices working on phase 2, so that each firm designs a pair of buildings, each of different tenures. This ensures there is no perception of the differing tenures in the phase.’