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Robin Hood Gardens remnants to be displayed at Venice Biennale

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Salvaged elements of Alison and Peter Smithson’s Robin Hood Gardens will be shipped from London to Italy for the Venice Biennale this year

The Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) announced it would present a section of the iconic estate in the Pavilion of Applied Arts in the Sale d’Armi in the Arsenale from 26 May.

The 1970s Brutalist landmark is being demolished to make way for the Blackwall Reach regeneration project, which was masterplanned by HCL for Swan Housing and subsequently reviewed by Metropolitan Workshop.

The V&A last year announced it would acquire an 8.8m-high, 5.5m-wide and 8m-deep slice of the estate, saying it was an ‘important piece of Brutalism worth preserving for future generations’.

In Venice, three storeys of the façade will be reassembled on a scaffold designed by Arup, which engineered the original building, and Muf architecture/art, which first proposed the V&A’s acquisition of the fragment.

This structure will allow visitors to stand on an original section of the elevated access deck, which was designed by the Smithsons to foster interaction between neighbours.

Inside the pavilion, the V&A has commissioned a new work by Korean artist Do Ho Suh. Using 3D-scanning and photogrammetry, and projected on a 13m-wide screen, the film moves along the walkways and appears to cut through the building, revealing domestic interiors within the modular plan.

Through archived photographs and specially recorded interviews, the exhibition also looks at the vision and fate of Robin Hood Gardens and asks what can be learned from its ruins.

At the Venice Biennale in 1976, the Smithsons displayed a billboard-size photograph of Robin Hood Gardens under construction.

V&A director Tristram Hunt said this year’s exhibition ‘asks the questions that confront so many modern cities about the future of social housing’.

Curators of the 2018 Pavillion of Applied Arts, Christopher Turner and Olivia Horsfall Turner, said in a joint statement: ‘The case of Robin Hood Gardens is arresting because it embodied such a bold vision for housing provision yet less than 50 years after its completion, it is being torn down.

‘Out of the ruins of Robin Hood Gardens, we want to look again at the Smithsons’ original ideals and ask how they can inform and inspire current thinking about social housing.’

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