The announcement in 2012 that London's Robin Hood Gardens — Alison and Peter Smithson's world-famous Brutalist housing estate — was set to be demolished was, on the whole, met with outrage among the architectural community. Since that time, many called for the profession to act in order to protect "one of Britain’s most important post-war housing projects," which led to a fresh bid to save the scheme in March of this year. Richard Rogers, Simon Smithson (a partner at RSHP and son of Alison and Peter Smithson), and academic Dirk van den Heuvel recently called upon members of the public to voice their concerns to the UK Ministry for Culture, Media and Sport.
In spite of this, it has now been announced that the UK Heritage Minister, Tracey Crouch, "is minded to approve the Certificate of Immunity for Robin Hood Gardens" meaning that the decision not to list the residential complex in Tower Hamlets will be upheld, giving a "legal guarantee that the building or buildings named in the certificate will not be considered for listing for five years." This will be the second certificate of this type to have been issued for this complex. According to Historic England, "a period of 28 days [beginning on the 4th August 2015] is now allowed for review before the certificate is issued."
When the certificate expired in 2014, the London Borough of Tower Hamlets applied to Historic England for it to be renewed. We provided Tower Hamlets, the Twentieth Century Society and CABE [Centre for Architecture and the Built Environment] with a consultation report as part of the COI process. Many of the points in the consultation response we received from the Twentieth Century Society were in reference to the original 2008 report and subsequent review material, and did not provide new information.
Emily Gee, Head of Designation at Historic England, has said on the matter that:
Any of the Smithson’s buildings deserve to be considered for listing, and a number are already listed. We have therefore given much thought to Robin Hood Gardens. We assessed the complex for listing in 2008 and our advice was subject to detailed scrutiny and review. No new information has come to light that would cause us to revise our assessment, so we stand by our view that Robin Hood Gardens does not meet the very high threshold for listing.
In recommending a building for listing, particularly one so recently built, we need to consider whether it stands up as one of the best examples of its type. We don’t think that Robin Hood Gardens does. It was not innovative in its design – by the time the building was completed in 1972 the ‘streets-in-the-air’ approach was at least 20 years old. The building has some interesting qualities, such as the landscape, but the architecture is bleak in many areas, particularly in communal spaces, and the status of Alison and Peter Smithson alone cannot override these drawbacks.
Listing is highly selective and decisions must be made objectively. While respecting the opinions of campaigners, after careful review of all the points received by the consultees, we recommended once again that Robin Hood Gardens does not make the grade.
You can read Historic England's statement in full here.