Sheffield born Alison Gill, later to be known as Alison Smithson, was one half of one of the most influential Brutalist architectural partnerships in history. On the day that she would be celebrating her 86th birthday we take a look at how the impact of her and Peter Smithson's architecture still resonates well into the 21st century, most notably in the British Pavilion at this year's Venice Biennale. With London's Robin Hood Gardens, one of their most well known and large scale social housing projects, facing imminent demolition how might their style, hailed by Reyner Banham in 1955 as the "new brutalism", hold the key for future housing projects? Having studied in Newcastle at Durham University, where Alison met Peter, the team of architects won their first commission when they were still in their twenties. Hunstanton Secondary Modern School (Norfolk, 1949-1954) offered a rare opportunity for them to realise their bold idealised vision. When they visited the CIAM IX (Congrès International d'Architecture Moderne) in Aix-en-Provence (1953), they made this vision clear. They wanted to define a new approach to Modernism by harking back to the International Style (practiced by such architects as Mies Van Der Röhe) which had taken hold before World War Two. Their architecture, although exploiting the cost and labour efficiency of mass production and pre-fabrication, would be anchored to location. Hunstanton's steel and brick structure is often thought to be the clearest expression of these early ideas.
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