The bid to list Robin Hood Gardens in Poplar, East London has failed. Calls for it’s immediate demolition have been made by Jim Fitzpatrick, the local MP for Poplar and Limehouse. This follows the non recommendation of Listed Status by Historic England.
I am certainly no expert when it comes to conservation or preservation of influential Architecture, really I am not. So this news encouraged me to delve a bit deeper beyond my sketchy superficial knowledge to attempt to form my own opinion. I set aside one day of my life to make Robin Hood Gardens part of it. You can only do as much as you can do. I hope you can find the time to do the same. I know very little about this and the information here is to the best of my knowledge. The links at the end will help you form your own starting point.
My brief research has unfolded the following envelope of stuff:
Robin Hood Gardens was designed by Alison and Peter Smithson and completed in 1972. Their international reputation is well respected and this would be highly influential in considering the listed status of any building. Alison and Peter formed the inspiration for the construction of Park Hill Estate in Sheffield which received Listed II* status in 1998. The renovation of this estate was shortlisted for the 2013 Sterling Prize. It is well published that Robin Hood Gardens could benefit from such intervention.
Historic England (then English Heritage) produced a video in 2009 explaining why they felt Listed Status was not appropriate in this instance. The main rationale that I took from this discourse was that the design ultimately did not fulfil the original brief to a full enough extent. Essentially it appears that the Architecture is not outstanding or innovative enough to warrant listing. Historic England celebrate the Architecture for it’s monumental characteristics and for those associated with it’s designers. They also state that renovation is a viable option but don’t want to commit further than this.
Despite influential condemnation of the decision from the Architecture community, the decision to not grant Listed Status stands,
In an interview with Maxwell Hutchinson in ‘Rebuilding Britain For The Baby Boomers’ Peter Smithson seemed to attribute any issues with Robin Hood Gardens to social interaction rather than inadequate Architectural Design.
Historic England state that “with regard especially to social housing, constraints of funding and legislation need to be understood if the historic significance of a building is to be properly evaluated.” In the interview with Maxwell Hutchinson Peter Smithson cites existing social issues as highly influential in the success (or not) of Robin Hood Gardens. This may equate to cause and effect of funding or actual legislation at that time which Historic England cite as a major consideration. Failures from his point of view do not appear to come from an Architectural perspective. In fact he is quoted as saying that the interior of these buildings were much better that existing housing of the time. Historic England do not comment on the interior of the dwellings in the video they have produced. They only focus on the exterior and communal areas in stairwells, car parking and ‘streets in the sky’ walkways as being inadequate.
Historic England, whether they are accurate not, distance themselves somewhat by stating that Listing a building is no guarantee of salvation from demolition.
Meanwhile the future seems to be that Tower Hamlets are keen to demolish and that plans have been submitted for future redevelopment by Swan Housing Association. Swan state that in consultation with local residents a complete redevelopment is the best course of action. They also state on their website that this will be in force as “a vast minority of people who liked the building (mostly Architects) will lose the campaign”.
Response to the above that I have found has come from an article in The Guardian by Rowan Moore that criticises future plans based on insipid design, the challenges of the site itself and the displacement of current residents.
So what I did was this and would recommend you do:
I read all of the links below then drove to Robin Hood Gardens to take a look for myself. I sat in the open green area (no access to the interior) and came to my own conclusions:
The building is in a state of serious disrepair and any decision should be swift for the sake of the residents. I’m not sure there is a plan for this.
The building should not be demolished. It should stand as a testament to our resolve as a society to care, conserve and replenish, not replace.
On this basis alone it should be given Listed Status so as to serve as a reminder to future generations that if we think all is lost, it is not and we can sort it out.
(To Historic England) I get the selection criteria but on balance why is it so relevant for Listing Status to be subject to the original proposal when it could mean losing it all today? Can you not form a Listed Status subject to future design proposals?
This stuff is not ours to play with. What’s there is there. We need to deal with it because our generations built it. To bury it is all too easy. All too easy means it’s gone for good and in exchange we ‘move on’ which is not the legacy most of us subscribe to.
Apologies but Links from the above and others are below in no particular order or identified in the bullet points. Just click, read and make your own mind up.