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Rogers makes final plea for Robin Hood Gardens listing

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Richard Rogers has written to more than 300 leading construction industry professionals asking them to support a new listing bid for Robin Hood Gardens

In March the AJ exclusively revealed that a fresh attempt had been made by the Twentieth Century Society to have Alison and Peter Smithson’s 1972 ‘streets in the sky’ buildings in east London listed after its certificate of immunity from listing - granted by then Culture secretary Andy Burnham in 2009 – expired (see AJ 17.03.15).

Rogers described the scheme as ‘the most important social housing development from the post-war era in Britain’, hailing its architectural and intellectual innovation.

According to Rogers, the listing recommendations for the Poplar estate could go before the new heritage minister Tracey Crouch at the end of this week. However, campaigners for the estate’s survival may have more time, given that Historic England told the AJ today (18 June) it had not yet submitted its report to the minister.

Rogers and RSHP partner Simon Smithson - the son of Alison and Peter Smithson, want the profession to inundate the minister with letters and emails in support of listing, outlining why the buildings should be saved.

It is understood the likes of Zaha Hadid, Norman Foster and RIBA president Stephen Hodder are among those already contacted.

Rogers said: ‘Last time listing was considered the views of the architectural community were ignored but we believe there is now a real chance of saving the building for posterity but only if the Minister hears, first hand, the views of the profession on the architectural merits of these exceptional buildings.

‘Can we ask you to support the efforts of the 20th Century Society by writing right now to the Minster to support listing and saying why you believe Robin Hood Gardens should be saved?’

In the letter, Rogers quotes architecture professor Dirk van den Heuvel who in March questioned Historic England’s motives for opposing the original listing bid.

The academic said: ‘Despite the current state of neglect and abuse, Robin Hood Gardens comprises a rare, majestic gesture, both radical and generous in its aspiration for an architecture of human association.’

Robin Hoods Gardens is currently set to be replaced by the second phase of the 1,575 home Blackwall Reach regeneration project, masterplanned by Aedas.

Robin Hood Gardens - concept drawing by the Smithsons

Robin Hood Gardens - concept drawing by the Smithsons

The letter in full

Dear Friends,

I am writing to ask you to support listing Robin Hood Gardens as a building of special architectural interest, in order to protect one of Britain’s most important post-war housing projects, designed by Alison and Peter Smithson, from demolition.

Previous efforts in 2009 to have the building listed failed, but the case has now been re-opened and we understand that the new Minister for Sport, Tourism and Heritage will be reviewing the arguments at the end of this week.  The buildings, which offer generously-sized flats that could be refurbished, are of outstanding architectural quality and significant historic interest, and public appreciation and understanding of the value of modernist architecture has grown over the past five years, making the case for listing stronger than ever.  

The UK’s 20th Century Society has submitted a paper setting out why they believe Robin Hood Gardens should be listed (i.e. added it to the statutory list of buildings of special architectural and historical interest). Two further assessments are set out below:

Alison and Peter Smithson were the inventors of the New Brutalism in the 1950s and as such they were the ‘bellwethers of the young’ as Reyner Banham called them. In many ways [Robin Hood Gardens] epitomizes the Smithsons’ ideas of housing and city building. Two sculptural slabs of affordable housing create the calm and stress free place amidst the ongoing modernization of the London cityscape. The façades of precast concrete elements act as screens that negotiate between the private sphere of the individual flats and the collective space of the inner garden and beyond. The rhythmic composition of vertical fins and horizontal ’streets-in-the-air’ articulates the Smithsons’ unique proposition of an architectural language that combines social values with modern technology and material expression. Despite the current state of neglect and abuse Robin Hood Gardens comprises a rare, majestic gesture, both radical and generous in its aspiration for an architecture of human association. As such it still sets an example for architects around the world.’
Dirk van den Heuvel, Delft University, Holland.

The Smithsons were clearly great architects: the Economist Building, completed in 1964 and Grade I-listed in 1988, is without a doubt the best modern building in the historic centre of London. Robin Hood Gardens, which pioneered ‘streets in the air’ to preserve the public life of the East End terraces that it replaced, was the next large-scale job that the Smithsons embarked upon. It was architecturally and intellectually innovative.  In my opinion, it is the most important social housing development from the post-war era in Britain.’ Richard Rogers

Last time listing was considered the views of the architectural community were ignored but we believe there is now a real chance of saving the building for posterity but only if the Minister hears, first hand, the views of the profession on the architectural merits of these exceptional buildings.

Can we ask you to support the efforts of the 20th Century Society by writing right now to the Minster to support listing and saying why you believe Robin Hood Gardens should be saved?

Click here to open an e-mail to the relevant Minister at the Department for Culture Media and Sport, Tracey Crouch MP: Minister-sportsandtourism@culture.gov.uk.  

For more information on the building click here, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robin_Hood_Gardens, and for details of the 20th Century Society case, please click here, http://www.c20society.org.uk/casework/robin-hood-gardens/

For Tweets: #SaveRobinHoodGardens

Also, can we ask you to forward this e-mail to anyone else you know who might be willing to help save these important buildings?

Yours sincerely

Richard Rogers and Simon Smithson

Previous story (AJ 17.03.15)

Richard Rogers welcomes new listing bid after certificate of immunity expires

Seven years ago it became a cause célèbre following proposals to knock it down.

But Robin Hood Gardens, the Alison and Peter Smithson-designed housing estate in east London, is still standing and now a fresh attempt is being made to preserve it for the nation.

Heritage lobby group the Twentieth Century Society has put in a new bid to have the 1972 ‘streets in the sky’ buildings listed after its certificate of immunity from listing - granted by then Culture secretary Andy Burnham in 2009 – expired.

A new report by the Society sent to English Heritage argues that the heritage quango’s advice to government not to list the estate was flawed.

The report said: ‘We believe that none of the reasons given for not listing Robin Hood Gardens is convincing or properly evidenced according to listing criteria, and that the previous decisions not to list were unsound.’

Richard Rogers, who in 2008 compared Robin Hood Gardens to the ‘great crescents and squares’ of Bath and argued that its demolition would be a tragedy, said he was delighted by the new listing attempt.

He said: ‘I can only say “three cheers”.

‘Robin Hood Gardens is one of a handful of great low-cost housing estates. It was a world-shaking building but it’s been looked after appallingly. Whatever anyone says, I don’t know of better modern architects than the Smithsons: they were certainly outstanding.’

The report argued that English Heritage misunderstood or misrepresented key aspects of the scheme’s design intent and level of success including its landscaping and street decks.

Robin Hood Gardens was a world-shaking building

The society also claims the global reputation of the Smithsons has grown in the past five years, adding: ‘No other British architects of the post-war era have the same international reputation as the Smithsons, save for James Stirling – who built widely abroad.’

And it questioned English Heritage’s assertion that the building is suffering from spalling and concrete decay.

‘The building has had no maintenance since 2000 while its future has been debated…The spalling is relatively minor and there is not known to be any other form of decay, either visible or invisible that cannot be readily rectified with modern repair techniques,’ the report said.

A spokesperson for English Heritage said the Twentieth Century Society had submitted its report following an application for a new certificate of immunity put in by Tower Hamlets council last year.

They added: ‘We are currently in the process of considering all consultation responses before making our recommendation to the Secretary of State.’

Robin Hoods Gardens is set to be replaced by the second phase of the 1,575 home Blackwall Reach regeneration project, masterplanned by Aedas. It is understood architects have yet to be officially appointed for the work.

In a joint statement, Tower Hamlets council, the Greater London Authority and development partner Swan Housing Association said: ‘A thorough heritage impact assessment was carried out as part of the planning application and environmental impact assessment process…We 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.’

A council spokesperson added: ‘As a council, we have a duty to provide housing that is of a decent standard for local residents. Our plans for the Blackwall Reach area will meet that duty and also bring much-needed benefits to the area.

‘Further to extensive consultation by English Heritage, the Secretary of State will decide whether the building should retain a certificate of immunity.’

Source: B.S. Johnson

 

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