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Big guns come out in support of Robin Hood Gardens


Piano, Hadid, Nouvel, Safdie, Gehry, Alsop, Viñoly, Cullinan, Hodder and Levete have all written to the government in support of listing Robin Hood Gardens, it has emerged.

A host of world-famous architects have written to heritage minister Tracey Crouch urging her to list the 1972 Poplar housing estate following a call to arms issued by Richard Rogers and fellow RSHP partner Simon Smithson, it has emerged.

AJ understands that Renzo Piano, Moshe Safdie, Zaha Hadid, Jean Nouvel, Frank Gehry, Rafael Viñoly, Ted Cullinan, Will Alsop, Amanda Levete and RIBA president Stephen Hodder have all written in support of the last-ditch effort to save the scheme.

Others to have given their backing include John McAslan, Renato Benedetti, Paul Monaghan, Peter Barber and leading competition advisor and heritage consultant Malcolm Reading.

Piano called the estate an ‘architectural gem’ and said it would be an ‘awful act of vandalism’ if it were to disappear.

He wrote: ‘This building is a masterpiece of the UK post war public housing programme. Robin Hood Gardens is a magnificent testament to an extraordinary period of social, political and artistic experimentation. I am confident you will save it.’

Levete said the scheme had strongly influenced her and marked a ‘very significant moment in the history of twentieth century British architecture’, adding that it could be sensitively adapted for modern use.

She said: ‘As the architect for the new galleries at the V&A, their biggest building project in over 100 years, I am acutely aware of the traditions we follow in and the richness gained from interacting with our history rather than sweeping it away.

‘The post-war destruction of terraced housing that could have been refurbished is often cited as a mistake. Let’s not make the same mistake again.’

Hadid’s letter to Crouch has not been made public but in 2008 during the last campaign to list the estate she wrote to then heritage minister Margaret Hodge, saying: ‘Robin Hood Gardens is a seminal project of socially responsible architecture from the era of Utopian thinking’.

Reading, who is a board member of English Heritage, chairman of the Tower of London World Heritage Site consultative committee and a trustee of Edinburgh World Heritage, wrote: ‘Robin Hood Gardens is a milestone in the Smithsons’ portfolio and also for post-war British architecture.’

Referring to the unpopularity of brutalism he said: In the past this, and other buildings labelled as Brutalist, attracted a great amount of bad publicity, generally because of social pressures and maintenance failings.

‘But the tide is turning. This architecture is enjoying a growing appreciation. Buildings such as the National Theatre – a building made of exposed concrete – and Park Hill Flats, Sheffield – an open-street housing development sharing many of the residential ambitions of Robin Hood Gardens – are recognised as buildings with distinctive and lasting humanist values.’

Speaking to AJ at a Bartlett School of Architecture event in support of the listing of Robin Hood Gardens, Twentieth Century Society director Catherine Croft questioned whether Historic England – which succeeded English Heritage in April – was suitably equipped to assess the international reputation that Robin Hood Gardens had amassed.

‘The international angle could be a thing to push for at appeal if Historic England decide against listing this time around,’ she said.

‘The Smithsons were a practice that had international recognition – particularly in Japan.’

Croft said she believed that the papers for the bid were now in front of Tracey Crouch, but said she had no indication of how long a decision may take.

RIBA President Stephen Hodder added: ‘In my view Robin Hood Gardens is one of the most significant pieces of twentieth-century architecture in the UK.

‘But it has been grossly neglected and has failed to provide adequate standards of living for the community it was built to serve. The Park Hill development in Sheffield shows how dilapidated and previously flawed buildings can be radically transformed through good design to create high quality desirable housing. ‘If sustainable redevelopment is possible, then it must be carefully considered before Robin Hood Gardens is gone forever.”



Readers' comments (2)

  • Stelios Voutsadakis

    Could some one please send a copy of A & P Smithson’s books: ‘Without Rhetoric’ and ‘Ordinariness and Light’ to ‘Historic’ England. Their last chance to understand what it is all about.
    By the way if you were to ask the residence opinion … Most would like to stay and are prepare to put up with the disturbance of improvements, necessary to brink the estate to current standards.
    But then again you look across the green and Canary Wharf is so close!

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  • So much coverage of this, and very little added to the debate.
    Two things seem odd. First, when English Heritage was advising Government on the request for listing a few year's ago, I was hearing as many people, including many architects, speaking against listing Robin Hood Gardens as supporting it. These voices are now oddly silent. This might I suppose reflect the growing interest in brutalist architecture which has become more fashionable in the short time since the last debate. A good thing, in my opinion, if it helps strengthen public appreciation of some great buildings of this period.

    Secondly, we seem to be incapable of appreciating and protecting our heritage unless it is statutorily listed.The modern approach to conservation recognises the contribution to our culture of all heritage assets, whether listed or not. We should not be demolishing Robin Hood Gardens for all sorts of reasons, but it is not a great building and it's not a great example of the Smithson's work. (Whether the Smithsons were great, I'll leave for others to argue.) The listing issue is distracting us from the more important one. Demolition would be a waste of money, effort and energy. With repair, adaptation, extension and good stewardship, RHG could be a great place to live. Achieving that would be a cause for real celebration, and perhaps even listing.
    Steven Bee

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