Robin Hood Gardens

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Robin Hood Gardens is a residential estate in Poplar, London designed in the late 1960s by architects Alison and Peter Smithson and completed in 1972. It was built as a council housing estate with homes spread across 'streets in the sky': social housing characterised by broad aerial walkways in long concrete blocks, much like the Park Hill estate in Sheffield; it was informed by, and a reaction against, Le Corbusier's Unité d'Habitation.Template:Citation needed

The landlord is Tower Hamlets Council. As with many other council housing blocks in the UK, tenures have diversified somewhat and include social housing tenants, leaseholders who exercised the right to buy and subsequent private owners, and private tenants of leaseholders. The estate comprises two long curved blocks facing each other across a central green space, and in total covers Template:Convert. The blocks are of ten and seven storeys, built from precast concrete slabs and contain 213 flats. In the central green area is small man-made hill. The flats themselves are a mixture of single-storey apartments and two-storey maisonettes, with wide balconies (the 'streets') on every third floor. The complex is 200m north of Blackwall DLR station, with its direct links to the City of London and separated by a bus terminus. It is within sight of the nearby Balfron Tower; both are highly visible examples of Brutalist architecture.

Following the approval of a redevelopment scheme as part of a wider local regeneration project in 2012, demolition of the estate began in 2013. An earlier attempt, supported by a number of notable architects, to head off redevelopment by getting the estate listed status, was rejected by the government in 2009.

Preservation status

A campaign was mounted in 2008 by Building Design magazine and the Twentieth Century Society to get Robin Hood Gardens listed as a historical landmark in order to save it from destruction, with support from Richard Rogers and Zaha Hadid; the latter counts it as her favourite building in London. However, English Heritage did not back the proposal, with its commissioners overruling the advice of its own advisory committee. This was because it did not fully meet the strict criteria for listing post-war buildings, and because the building had suffered serious shortcomings from the start, as the designers had been forced to compromise on issues including the width of the access decks.

The campaign to save Robin Hood Gardens drew very little support from those who actually had to live in the building, with more than 75% of residents supporting its demolition when consulted by the local authority.

In May 2009 the Minister of Culture, Andy Burnham, reiterated an earlier government decision not to list the estate and also granted a Certificate of Immunity from listing, meaning that the structure could not be reconsidered for listing for at least 5 years.<ref name="wharf">Template:Cite web</ref> This ministerial decision endorsed the recommendation of English Heritage that Robin Hood Gardens "fails as a place for human beings to live" and did not deserve statutory heritage protection, leaving the way open for Tower Hamlets Council to proceed with its demolition and redevelopment.<ref name="wharf" />

A resident's own survey, published in Building Design in June 2009, found that 80% of residents wanted it refurbished. In October 2009, opposition councillor Tim Archer accused the Council of ignoring maintenance problems to encourage residents to move out.

Redevelopment plans

The Council declared the site to be part of a larger regeneration area named Blackwall Reach, bounded by East India Dock Road to the north, the Blackwall Tunnel Northern Approach (A102) and East India Docks to the east, Aspen Way to the south and Cotton Street to the west. It plans to provide 1,600 new homes in this area along with improvements to the primary school, a new park and other community facilities.

In April 2010, Tower Hamlets shortlisted groups of architects, housing associations and developers to undertake the £500 million project. Before the final announcement, the designs for replacement buildings were condemned in The Observer as "generic developers' fare, with... no sense of place".

Swan Housing Association was selected, with a plan to replace the current broader green-linedTemplate:Clarify estate of 252 homes with up to 1,700, of which 700 would be for social housing and shared ownership. It would also include open space, community facilities, and better connections to the surrounding area. The demolition plans were passed by Tower Hamlets Council on 15 March 2012. Following final planning approval for the redevelopment scheme in December 2012, demolition began in April 2013.

The Smithsons on their work

The project was the subject of a BBC documentary The Smithsons on Housing (1970), made by B.S. Johnson, in which both Smithsons are interviewed.

Although Peter Smithson admitted he had been driven by a combination of urgency, practicality and idealism, he claimed in a 1990s interview that the project had failed, although he largely blamed social issues rather than architectural ones for this failure.<ref name=Hutchinson>Rebuilding Britain for the Baby Boomers, introduced by Maxwell Hutchinson, BBC Radio 4, 26 November 2011</ref>

"In other places you see doors painted and pot plants outside houses, the minor arts of occupation, which keep the place alive. In Robin Hood you don't see this because if someone were to put anything out it people will break it."

Asked why he felt this was the case, Smithson cited 'social jealousy', he then went on to say,<ref name=Hutchinson/>

"The week it opened, people would shit in the lifts, which is an act of social aggression."



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