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Criticism as well as praise for Smithsons

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Letters

Are the Smithsons quite the unsung heroes that Stephen Greenberg implies in his review of their collected works? (AJ 6.6.02).

While I agree that their writings are often thoughtprovoking and poetic, I wonder if what they built is always so persuasive. I suspect not. Look at the weird timber 'screen' around the Garden Building at St Hilda's College, Oxford, for instance, or some of the details at Bath. And Robin Hood Gardens? Shouldn't that have stayed on paper as a utopian bright idea rather than troubling the poor tenants of Tower Hamlets?

It's hardly 'almost tame', as Greenberg says.

But Greenberg is right in suggesting that their work strikes a chord just now. You only have to call into the RIBA bookshop and see how much has been published lately on Smithson themes - on Nigel Henderson, on the 'ordinary', on the 'as found'. But if the Smithsons' legacy is really to be productive, it needs to be critically evaluated and interpreted - the buildings alongside the writings - with the wheat sorted from the chaff.

There is a mid-way between rejection and genuflection and that is what we must find.

Jim Jarvis, Maldon, Essex

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