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Robin Hood Gardens

November 16, 2019


This is the Robin hood gardens estate in Poplar, east London The government has agreed with the advice of English heritage not to list this building But many people particularly those in the architectural community are passionate about it So why doesn’t it pass the tests for being a listed building and how do these decisions get made? Is impressively monumental, even sculptural The two blocks are angled or cranked and the concrete fins which were constructed to help deflect noise create a rhythmic elevation Between the two blocks is an unusual and evocative landscape Described by the architects as a ‘stress-free zone’ Providing a clever oasis from the surrounding traffic we agree that the late Peter and Alison Smithson are celebrated architectural theoreticians and indeed English heritage has previously listed three of their finest schemes Robin Hood Gardens was founded on architectural ambition, and it has attracted a good amount of academic interest However the set criteria for Listing Post-War buildings are very strict After careful assessment we found that the Robin Hood Gardens estate failed to fully meet them We needed to examine not just its architectural interest But also whether it fulfilled its original brief Whether it was a particularly good example of the development in housing how well it survives and how influential the building was Firstly in our view as housing it has serious shortcomings and did have from the start This judgment isn’t based on its present condition, but on the original design The Smithsons were forced to amend their designs for structural reasons late in the day and the resulting compromise is really apparent You can see this in the indefensible narrow twisting stairwells there are far too few of them and their tightness is uncomfortable and quite threatening They have never provided adequate access to those long Windswept decks into people’s front doors The decks themselves, perhaps because they are not particularly generous and overlook constant traffic, Never did fulfil their brief and work as community-fostering ‘streets in the sky’ as decks have in other estates The shortcomings can also be seen in the atmosphere created by the prison-like boundary walls intended to battle traffic noise the bleak entrance lobbies and the isolated parking areas where no one can see what’s happening, and there’s no easy way out. Secondly by the time the estate was opened in 1972 It was already out of date and at the end of the high-rise ‘streets in the sky’ movement’ So it was not significantly influential in this way This is the Park Hill estate in Sheffield It was completed a decade earlier and on a much more confident scale The streets in the sky here were therefore innovative as well as being wider and more accessible More liveable. This estate is listed We also considered that the Robin Hood Gardens estate does not compare successfully with other Grade II listed Post-War housing schemes such as the Barbican and the Brunswick Centre Robin Hood Gardens has suffered from incremental changes and additions in the last 30 years and Features like the color schemes that help children identify where they lived have been lost. Lastly the estate attracted little admiration from architectural critics at the time or in the immediate later years We understand the disappointment of some of this building’s admirers, and we share their appreciation of its role in an intellectual story Yet while we feel the Robin Hood Gardens estate did meet some of the challenges of a difficult site, in the end it failed in its brief to create a housing development which worked on human terms English Heritage thoroughly and fairly considered evidence from every contributor and visited the site a number of times throughout the decision-making process it was considered at all levels of our heritage protection department by our external advisory panel and also by commission, our decision-making body We cannot just list buildings because they are threatened the listing assessment must be an objective judgement free from influence and the criteria must be met. Listing cannot be swayed by public will, convenience, emotion or external pressure Listing however isn’t actually what saves buildings. Listed buildings that have shown to be unworkable have still been demolished Listing is simply a mark of special interests in a national context It can often be argued that good non-listed buildings should be kept Perhaps large alterations would overcome the faults of the original design and make it both a pleasant and interesting place to live Listing the building may not even have helped in this process English Heritage has a well respected track record in recommending post-war buildings for listing we have listed 13 Post-War public housing estates in London alone, and over 330 Post-War buildings and complexes nationally. This is more in relative terms than any other country. If you have an interest in Twentieth-Century architecture and want to see more about the quality and variety of the sites that have been listed Go back to our website and click on 20th Century listing

5 Comments

  • Reply Alex Just October 4, 2015 at 4:38 pm

    I assume the developers realised that were not able to convert it into "hipster lofts" like it happened in Park Hill, where all the tenants were moved out with very little chance of ever getting back. Everything which is potentially is not profitable, but still valuable will not be simply listed. Alisson and Peter Smithsons simply deserve to be listed as they attempted to provide decent quality of living for the poor.

  • Reply Lewis Done January 3, 2018 at 8:07 pm

    ENGLISH HERITAGE IS FUCKIN CULTURAL TERRORISM.

  • Reply ago wa December 20, 2018 at 8:47 pm

    Thanks for knocking them down .we now have 2000 new homes a big mosque and our community can only get bigger . Islam says thank you England.

  • Reply Carl S June 16, 2019 at 4:13 pm

    Sorry lady, you are talking rubbish… it should have been saved… it was unique… disrepair and neglect… and developer greed got it in the end

  • Reply Shopaholic undisputed heavy weight champion October 23, 2019 at 11:07 pm

    I’m on the fence with this one , it lacks the elegance of Park Hill and doesn’t come close to Neave Browns work , but too many of these estates are.being bulldozed !!

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