The son of Alison and Peter Smithson, architect Simon Smithson, has spoken of his delight at the outpouring of support for their Robin Hood Gardens estate
The east London council estate has long been under threat of demolition but thanks to the expiration of the certificate of immunity from listing, the 1972 buildings now have a last ditch chance of survival.
Last week Smithson and his RSHP colleague Richard Rogers contacted 300 leading industry figures urging them to write letters supporting listing to heritage minister Tracey Crouch.
Renzo Piano, Moshe Safdie, Zaha Hadid, Jean Nouvel, Frank Gehry, Rafael Viñoly, Ted Cullinan, Will Alsop, Amanda Levete and RIBA president Stephen Hodder are among those known to have already done so (see Big guns come out in support of Robin Hood Gardens).
Smithson said: ‘I don’t think anybody expected such an extraordinary reaction. We are getting emails from all over the world and are being CCd into emails direct to the minister. It’s an interesting expression of new media.
‘I also think there has been a positive shift in opinion in regard to modernism because it has become historic.’
He also hit out at what he described as Historic England’s [then English Heritage] ‘politicised’ 2008 report on the estate which recommended against listing.
He said: ‘The original report was so poor. Because it was so politicised, it throws the whole [listing] process into doubt.’
Despite this deluge of support, the backers of the proposed new Blackwall Reach development - which would see the Smithsons’ Brutalist blocks flattened and replaced - have ruled out any reprieve for the buildings.
The London Borough of Tower Hamlets, the Greater London Authority (GLA) and development partner Swan Housing Association said they had no intention of relooking at a potential revamp of the so-called ‘streets-in-the-sky’.
The statement reads: ‘Refurbishing the existing blocks was considered during the early stages of the regeneration process, but would not have delivered the same quantity of affordable homes for local residents.
‘Refurbishment would have required compromise on the size, quality and energy efficiency standards of the new properties, as well as the wider community benefits.’
It remains unclear when heritage minister Tracey Crouch will make a formal decision on the lsiting, however the AJ understands Historic England’s recommendations have still not been submitted to the Department for Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS).
The joint statement in full from Tower Hamlets, the GLA and Swan Housing
‘The Blackwall Reach Regeneration Project is an ambitious scheme designed to help address local housing need while improving local infrastructure and community facilities. The project will deliver 1,575 much-needed new homes, over half of which will be affordable, as well as an expanded school, a new designated Community Centre, a larger mosque, high-quality open and green areas and further commercial spaces. The first phase of the project is already complete, with residents set to move into their new homes in the coming weeks.
Listing would not be in the best interests of residents
‘A thorough heritage impact assessment was carried out as part of the planning application and environmental impact assessment process. In 2009, following consultation with English Heritage (now Historic England) and having considered all representations made, the Secretary of State decided not to list Robin Hood Gardens. We welcomed that decision, and do not believe listing the buildings now would be in the best interests of residents or the wider local community, or in keeping with the changing nature of the place. Refurbishing the existing blocks was considered during the early stages of the regeneration process, but would not have delivered the same quantity of affordable homes for local residents. Refurbishment would have required compromise on the size, quality and energy efficiency standards of the new properties, as well as the wider community benefits.’
A London Borough of Tower Hamlets spokesperson added:’As a council, we have a duty to provide homes that are of a decent standard for local residents. We must also strive to address severe shortages of housing both in Tower Hamlets and across London, including meeting the Mayor of London’s targets for new homes. Our plans for the Blackwall Reach area will meet those obligations and also bring much-needed benefits to the area.
‘Further to extensive consultation by Historic England, the Secretary of State will decide whether the building should retain a certificate of immunity.”