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V&A acquires three-storey chunk of Robin Hood Gardens

Robin hood gardens v&a crop 2
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The V&A is to take possession of a three-storey section of Robin Hood Gardens, saying it as an ‘important piece of Brutalism, worth preserving for future generations’

The section from Alison and Peter Smithson’s lauded 1972 Brutalist landmark is 8.8m high, 5.5m wide and 8m deep. It includes the exterior façades and interiors of a maisonette as well as part of the ‘streets in the sky’ walkway.

The east London estate is set to be demolished to make way for the Blackwall Reach regeneration project, masterplanned by Metropolitan Workshop. The scheme is split into five phases and will eventually replace the estate’s 252 homes with 1,575 new units. Other architects working on the redevelopment include Haworth Tompkins and CF Møller

The acquisition came about as a result of a collaborative effort between Liza Fior of muf architecture/art; the London Borough of Tower Hamlets; London mayor Sadiq Khan; project backer Swan Housing Association; Hill Partnerships; and Northeast Demolition. 

Christopher Turner, keeper of the design, architecture and digital department at the V&A, said: ‘This three-storey section of Robin Hood Gardens, complete with “street in the sky”, is an important piece of Brutalism, worth preserving for future generations.

’It is also an object that will stimulate debate around architecture and urbanism today - it raises important questions about the history and future of housing in Britain, and what we want from our cities.’

Robin Hood Gardens in Poplar in 1986

Robin Hood Gardens in Poplar in 1986

Source: Mike Seabourne

Robin Hood Gardens in Poplar in 1986, photographed by Mike Seabourne

In September, the AJ reported that builders were beginning to take down the western side of the estate, but that there were still residents living in the eastern block of the two main Smithson-designed buildings. A spokesperson for Swan Housing Association told the AJ that these residents would not be moved out until 2020. 

Catherine Croft, director at the Twentieth Century Society, which strongly opposes the demolition, said: ‘Keeping a small section is by no means an adequate way of preserving all that is important about a great building, but nevertheless we are delighted that some sense of the physical materiality of Robin Hood Gardens will endure.

‘It is very prescient of V&A to recognise the significance of the estate, both as an example of high Modernist design, and as a highly controversial conservation disaster.’ 

In 2015, the Twentieth Century Society failed in its bid to get statutory protection for the estate, despite a campaign to save the buildings which was backed by Richard Rogers and Zaha Hadid among others. Instead, heritage minister Tracey Crouch granted a second certificate of immunity for the blocks.

Previously, in 2008, then architecture minister Margaret Hodge also refused to list the estate following a campaign mounted by Building Design magazine, concurring with English Heritage that it was unfit for people to live in.

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Readers' comments (2)

  • If you want to see horror being build next to horror, visit the site. Speaking as someone who hated the Brutalist flats, I hate even more the jam-packed high-rise gimcrack now being built. Still, it’s only for poorer folk, isn’t it?

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  • Is the 'gimcrack' only for poorer folk, or is it of the so-called 'affordable' category angled more to the world commodity investment market? (maybe to be let, or just left empty as an appreciating investment).

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