Comment on: Shock new bid to save Robin Hood Gardens
I have lived in Robin Hood Gardens since Feb !982 in a one bedroomed flat, and from inside these properties in the western block from the sixth floor, I have found these homes a breath of fresh air from the first I moved in.
What has bedevilled the blocks is the quality, and the snobbery of the Housing Management of the structure. The probable ascetic values of these people would be a 1930's suburban dwelling that proliferate our suburbs across the Country. [And very practical they are too! With gardens front and rear; plus frequently a parking space.]
Basically Management has been virtually absent; a typical example of a recent expensive TH Homes Management Fire Escape issues travesty; led to making the rear of flats insecure to impulse theft should someone choose to move behind. And still are! The LDDC (circa 1986-90) renovated the separating doors at the rear of flats; new 1hr fire doors, single directional escape mechanism from a central flat, which was the only one where either direction could be a choice. The Council Officers misunderstood how the concept functioned; believing the system was unsafe, as movement in two directions was not possible. But this very fact of only one direction meant security from theft or voyeurism, "Peeping Tom's", as it was simple to detect from where an intruder had begun their journey. TH Homes officials chose to act alone; failed to consult with long resident occupants. and conducted an expensive waste of taxpayers resources, using labour intensive removal of the expensive Union thumb turn locking mechanism and system. Later due to complaints about the fire doors banging in the wind; they agreed to install push button catches, which are nonetheless insecure and allow anyone to move behind secretly, either of theft or anti-social behaviours. This ineffectual Management series of decisions, is just one example of how they poorly deploy resources; and misdiagnose problems, and the poor decision management processes that they deploy.
Actual maintenance ceased a long time past, I do not know when; although I do remember men on ropes being deployed from the roof, in order to inspect the concrete quality, and aspects of deterioration. The Smithson's had long sightedly specified stainless steel joint connectors, to reduce aspect of what I understand is 'spalling', a term I have never heard discussed, not have I read, except in this Article in the Architect's Journal.
Flats like these were designed with the thought that working class people, as had been the tradition, culturally would be in each other's houses [flats] in sociable communication. Sociological studies of the East End (1950-65) spoke generously of the open doors during WW2, and not only in London. These were the purposes behind the Architects Peter and Alison Smithson, who designed/planned this estate, "Streets in the Sky", from liaison with the LCC/GLC Housing Department, and the preliminary work probably was done late '50s early '60s, and public money had to be found during the sixties, and then Planning approval sought, once a site guaranteed. Consequently, much of the substructure could have been designed, to adapt to more hi tech, and geared towards changing technological innovation which was much more evident by the time the scheme was scheduled to commence construction. An example is we use more electrical devices, and use more water to wash clothes, and many want dishwashers, though I hate them.
This lack of Technological innovation and expectation is at the heart of opposition to living in the block in recent times. This could and should be 'redacted' and some flats could even be knocked into one for example. The point is the Estate has been an innovation, which European, possibly, further afield students have been visiting this building all the period of 33 yrs in which I have occupied these flats. Clearly their Professors have/had a different opinion than TH Council, even Mrs Thatcher who dismissed the GLC; or other small minded, less collegiate, or sociably minded individuals who seek luxury and isolation.
It is true the lifts are a lesser specification than one would find in a modern office complex. Perhaps this is due to restrictions Government, or Housing Planning demand, due to problems in initial funding outlays.. Another example of penny wise pound foolish. Also the rubbish shutes, chutes, were poorly specified to allow for wider, waste bin plastic liners to fit, and consequently those not wishing to persist, they left them blocked.
I shall be sorry to leave these walkways where the light from the afternoon/evening sun alters the colours not only in the sky, but upon the shrubs of adjacent estates. The western views could be sought after angles for private flats, above the pollution from vehicles below. The interesting views of the Canary Wharf business and shopping high spec infrastructure should be the example of quality, in so many details, like gates, railings, seating, landscaping, quiet areas, general joinery of window, and elsewhere.
In the longer term perhaps Govt and Local Auhorities, will realise we live in a World of diminishing returns; we cannot continue to build for obsolescence; construct to destroy with a 25yr turn around. It is just to wasteful. Take the more recent flats being built by developers. Rather sterile, and beige, middle of the road, so as not to offend; lacking personality versus the brutalism of the Smithsons'. How well will these newer, modern facilities last on the landscape; how will they wear, and appear in 20yrs.
You know, had the Authorities chosen to paint the exterior of Robin Hood Gardens, a Nash magnolia, or a Corboursier white, the brutality of the concrete, which originally was a slight golden colour, not the dirty grey of now, as is true of the South Bank buildings and staircases. Sometimes one has to live long enough to have a perspective through time.