"Demolition is a waste of many things – a waste of energy, a waste of material, and a waste of history," says Pritzker-winning architect Anne Lacaton. In recent years, refurbishment and adaptive reuse have become ubiquitous within the architectural discourse, as the profession is becoming more aware of issues such as waste, use of resources and embedded carbon emissions. However, the practice of updating the existing building stock lacks consistency, especially when it comes to Brutalist heritage. The following explores the challenges and opportunities of refurbishment and adaptive reuse of post-war architecture, highlighting how these strategies can play a significant role in addressing the climate crisis and translating the net-zero emissions goal into reality while also giving new life to existing spaces.
Robin Hood Gardens: The Latest Architecture and News
The world premiere of The Disappearance of Robin Hood, produced and directed by the Urban-Think Tank, an evening screening produced by ArchFilmFest London in partnership with LFA2018 and the Swiss Embassy in London.
This documentary explores the origins of and ideas behind Robin Hood Gardens, the London social housing complex designed by architects Peter and Alison Smithson in the late 1960s. Produced by the Urban-Think Tank, which aims to open discussion around the housing crisis that London faces today, the film presents us with the history of the building and its community as intertwined with contemporary urban narratives of the city.
London’s V&A Museum has announced that they will be acquiring a section of Alison and Peter Smithson’s Brutalist housing development Robin Hood Gardens, sparing it from destruction as the complex is currently being demolished.
The three-story section will consist of both the exterior facades and interiors of a maisonette flat, one of the signature typologies of the development and a defining example of the Brutalist movement in architecture.
Demolition has officially commenced on East London housing development Robin Hood Gardens, bringing to an end any chance of a last-minute preservation effort for the Brutalist icon. Designed by British architects Alison and Peter Smithson and completed in 1972, plans for the site’s clearing and redevelopment have been in the works for more than five years, before government indecision and a spirited protest campaign led by architects including Richard Rogers, Zaha Hadid, Robert Venturi, and Toyo Ito put those plans in doubt.
The Swan Housing Association has announced the appointment of Danish firm C.F. Møller to join Haworth Tompkins and Metropolitan Workshop in designing housing projects for the Blackwall Reach regeneration plan, a £300 million redevelopment effort which will replace Alison and Peter Smithson’s Brutalist east London estate, Robin Hood Gardens.
As leaders of Phase 3 of the plan, C.F. Møller will design housing for the eastern portion of the site. A total of 330 one- to five-bedroom residential units, half of which have been designated as affordable, will be located within a courtyard block complex at the edge of an existing garden mound – one of the few elements of the original estate that will be retained. The garden is planned to be replanted and renamed the “Millennium Green.”
Following the news in 2015 that Alison and Peter Smithson's Robin Hood Gardens was committed to demolition, Stirling-Prize winning practice Haworth Tompkins have been selected to work on the buildings' replacement. Alongside Metropolitan Workshop Architects existing master plan—entitled the Blackwall Reach Regeneration Project—the second phase of the regeneration will see the west block razed to make way for approximately 200 homes. The east wing will not be demolished until the third phase of the regeneration begins.
British filmmaker Joe Gilbert has created a short tribute film to Alison and Peter Smithson's Robin Hood Gardens estate in Poplar, East London, which—as of August 2015—is set to be demolished. Accompanied by insightful commentary from Timothy Brittain-Catlin, the film charts the buildings' history and recent threats to a backdrop of monochrome shots of the estate, in all of its dilapidated and "pleasantly wild" current state. The 'Streets in the Sky', made famous by the Smithsons and both widely praised and criticised as a response to the collapse of low-density terrace housing, are one of the focuses of the film.
RIBA Bookshop presents the book launch of 'REGENERATION! Conversations, Drawings, Archives & Photographs from Robin Hood Gardens' by Jessie Brennan. The publication contains Brennan’s two series of drawings Conversation Pieces and A Fall of Ordinariness and Light, among other research – including contributions by authors Owen Hatherley and Richard Martin – from Robin Hood Gardens estate in east London.
Set within the wider framework of “Living Anatomy: an Exhibition about Housing,” currently on view at Harvard Graduate School of Design, this exhibition focuses on ‘Robin Hood Gardens’ - Alison and Peter Smithson’s housing project in East London, completed in 1972. Threatened with demolition yet again, despite an ongoing campaign that still hopes to secure its preservation, Robin Hood Gardens stands today with broken windows, vandalized corridors, crippling facades, and a fractured public reputation. While deteriorating with neglect barely 50 years after its completion, this project’s architecture is still striking in its sense of livelihood and innovation.
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 it was announced in 2012 that London's Robin Hood Gardens – Alison and Peter Smithson's world-famous Brutalist housing estate – was to be demolished, there was outrage among the architectural community. Since then, many have 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 have now called upon members of the public to voice their concerns to the UK Ministry for Culture, Media and Sport, before the end of the week:
"Previous efforts in 2009 to have the building listed failed, but the case has now been re-opened and we understand that the new Minister for Sport, Tourism and Heritage will be reviewing the arguments at the end of this week [w/c 15th June 2015]."
It has been reported that London's Robin Hood Gardens housing estate, which was thought to be finally condemned in March 2012, has re-entered a state of flux due to governmental indecision. The former UK Culture Secretary, Andy Burnham, gave the housing scheme an immunity from listing certificate in 2009, meaning that no concerned party could bid for it to gain protected status under British law. This certificate, designed to ensure that the buildings would be swiftly demolished, has now expired. This has led the Twentieth Century Society (C20) to launch a new bid for the estate to be both saved and protected.
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?
The British Pavilion at the 2014 Venice Biennale takes the large scale projects of the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s and explores the "mature flowering of British Modernism at the moment it was at its most socially, politically and architecturally ambitious but also the moment that witnessed its collapse." The exhibition tells the story of how British modernity emerged out of an unlikely combination of interests and how "these modern visions continue to create our physical and imaginative landscapes." To those who know the UK's architectural heritage, this cultural and social history is delivered in a way which feels strangely familiar, whilst uncovering fascinating hidden histories of British modernity that continue to resonate in the 21st century.
We caught up with Sam Jacob, co-founder of FAT Architecture (of which this exhibition is their final project), and Wouter Vanstiphout, partner at Rotterdam-based Crimson Architectural Historians, outside the British Pavilion to discuss the ideas behind, and significance of, A Clockwork Jerusalem.