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Wednesday23 August 2017

Architects call for boycott of Robin Hood Gardens competition

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Sergison Bates would say ‘no’ to work on east London estate

Leading architects have called for a boycott of design competitions for the Robin Hood Gardens regeneration project after plans were lodged for the iconic estate’s demolition.

Aedas is already working on detailed designs for the first phase and a design competition will then be held to appoint architects for further phases.

But several architects have said they would not be prepared to take part in the planned design competitions and urged others to join the boycott.

Jonathan Sergison of Sergison Bates said: “If we were asked to do the job we would say no. There is a certain type of work you shouldn’t accept. The demolition of a seminal building is one of the instances where no is the right answer.”

But he conceded that any boycott was unlikely to be successful. “The reality is that people will fall over themselves to get the job and that’s a sad reflection of our profession,” he said.

However, others were quick to back Bates and said they would not be prepared to work on the project while it involves the estate’s demolition.

Jonathan Woolf of Woolf Architects said: “If the competition provided scope to work with the existing buildings that would be different. It is an incredibly important building and we should do everything we can to stop it from being demolished.”

And Adam Khan renewed a call for the developers to consider a solution that retains and enhances the existing estate.

“It does seem a scandalous waste of a building that could be used. We wouldn’t want to be involved in a project that involved its destruction,” he said. “In this country, things get polarised into either complete preservation or demolition. Neither of those approaches are very fulfilling.”

Outline plans for the £500 million regeneration project, which includes the demolition of Alison and Peter Smithson’s 1970s housing, drawn up by Horden Cherry Lee and Aedas were submitted to the London Borough of Tower Hamlets last week.

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Readers' comments (26)

  • i too will not do a bid for this work.... ops, did i accidently put forward a scheme knowing no one else was going too!!!

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  • too right!! there will always be someone ready to do it and will be worse if good architects refuse it. It is a disgrace though...with the typical British policy for heritage this building would be valuable in 150 years. Very few modern jewels will survive to be recognize as master pieces

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  • I think Mr Sergison's comment regarding " a sad reflection of our profession" is somewhat misdirected. The sad reflection of our profession is a string of vocal starchitects advocating RHG as "seminal" but not one of them prepared to provide honest commentary on RHG obvious social failings - failings that are not simply poor building maintenance. RHG is seminal in that it represents one of the many, many heroic failures of modernist housing ideas that still blight the public's very dim view of our profession. Its getting hard to listen to the hypocrisy of forked tongued architects or commentators that on one hand believe wholeheartedly in the transformative power of architecture on the other hand blame RHG failings entirely on everything BUT the architecture.

    Of all recently threatened or in fact destroyed brutalist icons - RHG is the least worthy of saving but the one we all hear about most due to its London location and darling status of its designers. We have seen the destruction of brutalist giants from Luder, Madin and the like with relatively little brouhaha and the gutting and desecration of one of the best examples – the Ulster Museum only a muted campaign to preserve. These examples are more concerning as they are public buildings, integral to the histories of our urban areas, that do in fact perform their brief and are essential elements of our country's post war history. They do not represent high handed social engineering that characterized many housing schemes of this type. Housing is different - not only its functionality and its aesthetics but the massive social legacy that it creates and the negative imagery bad examples propagate. RHG is bad for architecture and bad for residents.

    I do agree it could be refurbished or reused like Park Hill rather than destroyed but this could only work if it could be transformed into a high-worth residential scheme and unfortunately you can't pick it up and move it a few postcodes west… And who’s to suggest anyway that a competition to replace wouldn’t come up with something much, much better! After all our profession has surely learned the lessons of RHG…

    AD Crawford
    @linearchitect

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  • AD Crawford is right about RHG’s functional shortcomings, but wrong (I think) in suggesting that it could be refurbished. According to a study in 2007 by the architects Horden Cherry Lee it would cost £70,000 per unit merely to bring up to the government’s Decent Homes Standard, and ‘way beyond £100,000’ per unit to be renovated ‘into something where architects would want to live’ – and that was in 2007 prices. This pair of architectural failures should be demolished, but replaced by something better than the mediocre-looking images we saw in your pages last week. Is this really beyond the wit of architects? - Maritz Vandenberg.

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  • I wholeheartedly agree with AD Crawford. A good parallel in the US: Pruitt Igoe Housing. Designed by Yamasaki (who also designed the World Trade Centre) it's 'award-winning' design all too innovative... but it didn't work and the people of St Louis are better without it.

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  • what i am afraid of is the future project. to be honest i haven´t seen many good housing projects in britain since the time of the smithsons. Some good museums, offices etc, but housing is incredibly neglected

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  • Stewie

    They should have a competition and make the general public or those that are going to live their voters to decide on the best one. How often is housing decided upon by competition judged by a small elite who won't have to live there and who are hell bent upon imposing their design outlook on residents against their will. The fact that RHG lasted only 30 years can only be indicative of the poor design of the buildings. It is time to get a grip and move on rather than wallowing in the detriment by gone days of the 70's, it's 2012 for heavan's sake just get with it.

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  • SomeoneStoleMyNick

    Crawford and Vanderberg - you go on and on about the supposed "faiings" of RHG without actually saying what you think these failings are.

    HOw about substantiating your rants with some cogent argument about how and why, in your opinion, architecturally and socially, this project fails?

    I'm all ears.

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  • totally agree with Scepticalaboutthewholething. Don´t know exaclty what´s so wrong about rhg, except the fact that it is a rough place to live in. That´s the inhabitants´s failure I should say

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  • knock it down, build something nice, create jobs

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