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Phase two of Robin Hood Gardens replacement gets go-ahead

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Further plans by Haworth Tompkins and Metropolitan Workshop for a major scheme to regenerate the Robin Hood Gardens estate in east London have been approved

Officially phase 2 of the estate’s wider £500 million regeneration, the latest proposals will see the Brutalist western block of Alison and Peter Smithson’s ‘streets in the sky’ development, built in 1972, demolished to make way for 268 new homes.

The plans, submitted by project backer Swan Housing Association, were granted planning permission by the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. Proposals include four new buildings – two by each practice [blocks C1, C2, C3 and D].

The scheme will retain ‘in its entirety’ the original central park and mound at the heart of the redevelopment of the estate next to the Blackwall Tunnel, now known as the the Blackwall Reach Regeneration Project. It is understood that 50 per cent of the phase 2 homes will be affordable.

The east wing of the Smithsons’ landmark, meanwhile, will not be pulled down until the start of phase 3 [blocks E and F] of the five-stage project, which eventually aims to replace the estate’s 252 homes with 1,575 new units.

Site plan

Site plan

The Blackwall Reach Regeneration Project - phase 2 [buildings C and D]

In 2015, the Twentieth Century Society failed in its bid to get statutory protection for the concrete estate. Heritage minister Tracey Crouch granted a second certificate of immunity for the blocks meaning the Smithsons’ buildings cannot be considered again for listing until 2020.

In 2008 then architecture minister Margaret Hodge also refused to list the estate, agreeing with English Heritage that it was unfit for people to live in.

Toby Johnson, director at Haworth Tompkins previously said: ’We respect the legacy of the Smithsons and have been all too aware of the intellectual challenge involved in working on Blackwall Reach.

’However, we’ve worked closely with Metropolitan Workshop and Swan Housing to deliver a scheme that will preserve and enhance the open space and the heart of the estate, improve the relationship the new buildings make to the surrounding streets and provide better homes for the existing residents of the estate, as well as additional homes to meet the demand in this fast-changing part of London.

’These proposals will improve the quality of life for those living on and near the estate.’

Robin hood gardens replacement

Robin hood gardens replacement

Neil Deely, partner at Metropolitan Workshop which has also masterplanned the site, previously said: ’We are looking forward to continuing our work with Swan Housing, the GLA, Tower Hamlets Council and the local community in due course, and also furthering our successful collaboration with Haworth Tompkins.

’We’re very pleased that the client group has embraced the recommendations for qualitative improvements to the plans for regeneration of the estate and to delivering the best possible place to live at Blackwall Reach.’

AKT II and Townshends are on the design team as structural engineer and landscape designer respectively.

Robin Hood Gardens replacment - Block C2 ground floor

Robin Hood Gardens replacment - Block C2 ground floor

Robin Hood Gardens replacement - Block C1 Typical Plan

Robin Hood Gardens replacement - Block C1 Typical Plan

Robin Hood Gardens replacement - Block C1 Typical Plan

  • 3 Comments

Readers' comments (3)

  • Can anyone explain why only 50% of the new homes will be affordable? Weren't all the previous homes on this site affordable?
    If a housing association, whose remit is to provide affordable housing (someone correct me if I'm wrong) has to make 50% of the new housing stock unaffordable - presumably to help finance the affordable homes - then what does that say for our society, is it right that so much of the replacement housing stock is not just unaffordable, it's an internationally traded commodity?
    Regeneration or degeneration?

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  • As an architect and art historian living in France, I am writing to express my concern about the fate of the Robin Hood Gardens housing estate and its possible “replacement”. Conceived by the architects Alison and Peter Smithson between 1966 and 1972, the existing ensemble represents their profound belief in the quality of social housing.

    In the new “replacement” project, we can not observe similar qualities, neither of the buildings’ architecture, nor of the proposed internal organisation of the living space. For instance, the kitchen is part of the living & dining area and the apartments – from one bedroom to tree bedroom flats – do not have a proper kitchen. The indicated cooking area is sometimes remote from the windows, which are anyway small and related not to the organisation of the typical plan, but to the image of a façade “in Uniform”.

    More than fifty years ago, the Smithson’s design provided a generous double level flat in the tradition of English terrace houses, inspired by, but also as a critical interpretation of, Le Corbusier’s Unité d’Habitation. Each apartment has a generous access, large windows looking opposite sides, a proper kitchen in a separate room with windows opening outside. We wonder, is there any progress of the architecture design, or any improvement of living standards of the new “replacement” project that would justify the demolition of the Smithson’s housing Estate?

    If we compare the fate of Robin Hood Gardens with the preservation of Le Corbusier’s idea of Unité d’Habitation, we can appreciate the refurbishment of the buildings in existence - four in France and one in Berlin. For different reasons, those five buildings passed through some difficult phases, needing restoration or even a more radical strategy of recovery. However, they were all finally well restored and praised by their inhabitants. Like the Smithsons’ Robin Hood Gardens, they express a certain social strength in post-war Europe and on this account alone, the question of demolition has been out of place.

    When a building has as authors two architects of International importance such as Alison and Peter Smithson, its value cannot be considered in terms of land and refurbishment costs. If it is cared for, it can be compared with a genuine work of art that, with the passage of time, will acquire an increasing value in its own right. Entering a different logic, in some ways similar to the art circuit, it can in fact generate both direct and indirect income. This process is brilliantly demonstrated by the incredible expansion of the Tate Gallery. In this perspective, the demolition and the “replacement” strategy would be an unjustifiable error.

    Concerned with the heritage of Alison and Peter Smithson, I hope the Robin Hood Gardens estate will be protected and listed as soon as possible, so that a regrettable act can be excluded once and for all. I also feel it is my duty to suggest a double course of action. The first is a thorough analysis of the particular situation seen in a larger historical and cultural context, and not reduced to a local socio-economic “problem”. The second is an imaginative consideration of the future potential of the ensemble of the two buildings and their environment, when restored and treated as an important British asset of post-war architecture.

    Stefania Kenley, author of the book : Du Fictif au réel; Dix essais sur le Pop art anglais et le Nouveau Brutalisme en architecture, Dijon, les presses du réel, 2016.

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  • Fine Stefania, but Alison and Peter Smithson were third rate Architects and academics even by the standards of the early 70s, dressing their rubbish with intellectual cant. The wonder is how they fooled Richard, Norman et al. They also fooled the local authority housing managers and planners, consigning generations of tenants to crap housing. They also tarnished the reputation of the architectural profession for 20 years, at least. Corb was a flawed genius and the refurbished Unite looks fine now, and inhabited by affluent architects? There is still a housing crisis 45 years later, but hopefully we are no longer hampered by the preaching of A and P and their parking lots? Their generation is retiring or dead now, and it looks as if the current masters have learned from their mistakes, and are living in the real world. Come back from France Stefania and take a look?! We like open plan kitchen/dining/living rooms, preferably with 2 good sized bedrooms, and a sheltered balcony you can sit round a table on. Proper storage and somewhere for a car and bike completes the picture. Of course you need a well paid job to pay for it, and there must be larger properties with a garden to move on to. And perhaps a place in la belle France with your SNCF?

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