Robin Hood Gardens, Poplar, London designed in the late 1960s by Alison and Peter Smithson completed in 1972, currently undergoing demolition.
Part of the building has been acquired by the Victoria and Albert Museum
From 2015 - 2016 I recorded a collection of songs at the estate, as well as making many field recordings. At the bottom of this page you can find a short text I wrote about Robin Hood Gardens
For further reading I can recommend Owen Hatherley's book Militant Modernism
From 26 May to 25 November 2018 an 'Eight-tonne fragment of Robin Hood Gardens to be reassembled at Venice Architecture Biennale'; Very sad state of affairs...
Robin Hood Gardens was as the only public housing project realised by the internationally influential and respected architects Alison and Peter Smithson. It is perhaps the archetypal London public housing project built in the architectural style of Brutalism. In the 1950s Alison and Peter Smithson adopted the phrase ‘New Brutalism’ - taken from the French term béton brut (raw concrete) - to describe their controversial style of modernist architecture; this was later shortened to ‘Brutalism’. In Britain this style became particularly associated with council housings as many projects completed in the 1960s and 70s were commissioned by local authorities.
Robin Hood Gardens however is not only of social and architectural significance, it is also of acoustic interest as from its inception the Smithsons were concerned with sound when designing the site. They designed sound reflecting walls around the site as a way of minimising the traffic ‘noise’ as it is set between two major roads and the Blackwall Tunnel. One would suspect that the Smithsons also paid particular attention to the acoustic qualities inside the buildings, designing high ceilings of glass and concrete into the communal entrances and walkways, creating cathedral like reverbs in the spaces. However this has been largely overlooked in most critiques of the site.
In addition to this, due to a relatively large green central court yard that formed part of the design, the site became something of - what one resident described as - 'a nature oasis’. I made an attempt to document this, as the wild life will be irrevocably disrupted and displaced - much like the human community of the estate - by the demolition. I feels this too has been over looked in discussions about the ‘regeneration’ of the site.
As mention above the Victoria and Albert Museum has acquired a section of the West block which encompasses one whole maisonette and it's facade. I have mixed feelings about this, obviously I believe it's a horrendous tragedy that it will no longer be in use as social housing, however I'm glad that part of the site will be 'preserved', if only for posterity. It will be interesting to see in which context it will be exhibited. I hope it is not only it's architectural significance that is highlighted and that there will also be an emphasis on the role it's construction (along with many other post-war council estates) and - especially it's - demolition has played in the narrative of social democracy, and now sadly social cleansing in London.
Here is an interesting piece on the subject written by Feargus O'Sull for citylab.com
Below is 1970 B.S. Johnson produced BBC documentary film 'The Smithsons on Housing'