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Saturday02 August 2014

English Heritage fails to back Robin Hood Gardens

Robin Hood Gardens estate seems destined for demolition after English Heritage failed to recommend it for listing.
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English Heritage commissioners have overruled the advice of the organisation’s own advisory committee over the future of Robin Hood Gardens and recommended it is not listed.

After a campaign run by BD which collected more than 2,000 signatures from around the world in support of the threatened 1972 Smithsons-designed estate in east London, the English Heritage Advisory Committee chaired by archaeologist Barry Cunliffe recommended it be listed at grade II.

But because of the high-profile campaign — which has featured prominently on the internet and in national media — Robin Hood Gardens was also considered by the EH commission, its ruling body, which then recommended that architecture minister Margaret Hodge should not list the estate.

Given that Hodge is a well known opponent of late 20th century concrete buildings, Robin Hood Gardens is now under direct threat of bulldozing by Tower Hamlets Council and English Partnerships which plan to replace the two eight-storey blocks with 3,000 new homes .

A member of the EH’s advisory committee ,who did not wish to be named but has visited Robin Hood Gardens, suggested the commission had not taken its decision based on architecture alone.

“Seeing it was definitely impressive,” the member said. “It was borderline, but we thought it was worth [listing]. Commissioners have other considerations, the public standing of EH, the relationship with the secretary of state. In practice they might have thought it was a no-hoper.”

According to sources, it is unusual for commissioners, who include the Earl of Leicester and architect Chris Wilkinson, to disagree with the advisory comittee and EH’s in-house experts.

“EH was in a real tizzy about Robin House Gardens, which has not been helped by the fact that [Hodge] does not like this type of architecture,” the source said.

The Smithsons’ son Simon, who kick-started BD’s campaign in February said he had suspected such an outcome.

“Margaret Hodge doesn’t value modernism and believes it should be different rules for evaluating it,” he said. “It reflects a general resistance to modernism in the culture.

“For some reason this building is seen as a battle ground and there is a certain bloody-mindedness that if we allow this one we have to rethink our attitude to 20th century buildings as a whole.”

RIBA Gold Medalist Peter Cook, who is on the jury for BD/AF’s ideas competition said: “Normally specialist advice would be rubber stamped. There must be a very fiendish opposing group somewhere. This is an insult to the advisory committee.”

View the English Heritage video explaining its decision

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Readers' comments (9)

  • At last an end to this debacle and the preservationist rhetoric from a bunch of misty-eyed margaret howell wearing Hampstead twentieth century fetishists who never have to concern themselves with the thought of ever having to liive there. Well done English Heritage for right mindedness.

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  • English Heritage only value corporate business and volume builder developers.... In the case of King's Cross they failed to protect Culross Workers' Housing and Community Hall . A unique example of workshop and workers housing from the Industial Revolution... Ove Arup when first moved to London lived there with his wife !!! It still stands on his own feet but it is a matter of time to save it now... http://wikimapia.org/#lat=51.5327554&lon=-0.1249158&z=17&l=0&m=a&v=2 Once again, EH fails to protect & promote England's spectacular historic environment and rather fast-track speculative enclosures .

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  • Whilst I don't personally understand why anyone should want the estate listed, it does show the inadequacies and inconsistencies of English Heritage at the moment. For those of us living in Bath, something that we are seeing week after week.

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  • Typical Margaret Hodge I'm afraid. When she was involved with Islington Council years ago there were similar situations. Silly cow obviously imagined she had a great, bright, future politically. Unfortunately what goes around comes around: the enemies she made at that time have boxed her political career in, giving her a third tier Ministerial posts at best! And that's all she will EVER be: third rate!!!!!!!! Like her thinking and decisions!! Too much Maggie dust!!???

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  • things like this make me angry, here we are witnessing history being destroyed and because of b******t red tape and politics another landmark building will be lost. Im just glad that my post graduate DISSERTATION will be written ABOUT THIS BUILDING before it is destroyed! PS anyone know the date of the wrecking ball please let me know as I need to conduct an extensive photographic survey

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  • Re Robin Hood Gardens listing; Well done English Heritage! The campaign to list Robin Hood Gardens is a perfect illustration of how sections of the architectural profession in our country are so far divorced from the aspirations of working class Tenants who are forced to live in these failed estates. The Smithsons were certainly failed architects as far as social housing goes. They built theri reputation on an innovative school in Hunstanton but they were fortunately never given another social housing brief after their streets in the sky disaster at Robin Hood Gardens. Robin Hood Gardens belongs to that all too familiar group of architectural carbunkles that were designed to encourage anti social behaviour behaviour. It is a development carefully designed to maximise the opportunities for muggers. I would compare it in that respect with the Andover Estate in Finsbury Park and Copley Close Estate in Hanwell Ealing. The campaign to list iRobin Hood Gardens is motivated by the precious vanity of the Smithsons son more than anything else. The people arguing for its retention do not live there but appear to want to condemn less well off Tenants to have to remain living there. Tower Hamlets and their Tenants and Margaret Hodge are right to want it pulled down but what people should be concentrating on is the mega density monstrosity that is being planned to go in its place. That is the real issue here. I have no doubt that if the Tenants were offerred a terraced housing replacement development there would be unanimous support. But of course that rarely happens anymore. The decision makers who live in houses themselves have decided that less well of people have to be rehoused in high density flats again just like in the sixties. I do not subscribe to the oftexpressed notion that if the Council remove the existing very multi-cultural Tenants at Robin Hood Gardens and have the building refurbished and sold off to young white professional achitects and fans of the Smithsons that this would represent a solution. Take the case of Keeling House in Bethnell Green, sometimes used as an argument to preserve tower blocks. This Denys Lansdun designed building was emptied by the Council and sold off to the private sector to be refurbished and sold on to private owners. The fact that a famous architect had originally designed the building did not neccessarily help the flats get sold. A huge amount of money had to be spent advertising the flats which took some years to get sold. Today iKeeling House looks grubby again despite its gating off from the local community. Be interesting to see what happens there in time as the original Council condition survey report at the time of the emptying of Tenants spoke of the inherent problem of "crumbling concrete". That inherent problem does not go away just because it is now in private ownership.

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  • I think most people are in agreement that as a piece of social housing Robin Hood Gardens is unable to successfully meet the needs of people today. However, there is no reason why its use cannot be changed. Furthermore for a building of that size to simply end up in a landfill seems further removed from the sustainable London government bodies are so desperate to foster. I think groups that hoped Robin Hood Gardens would be saved lament not merely at its future demolition but at the lack of creative thought and single-mindedness that comes with such a decision and the precedent it sets for other buildings across the U.K. London is unique because its centre is so architecturally diverse and I am certain that the mediocre housing that will take its place will rarely add to the diverse architectural lineage that makes London so incredible.

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  • La corte rialzata dell' Economist Building degli Smithson, con le sue linee severe e taglienti, è stata, per contrasto, il perfetto scenario dell'irruzione festosa dei mimi all'inizio di Blow Up di Michelangelo Antonioni. Spettacolare. Immagino anche i Robin Hood Gardens quale scenario eroico per decenni di gesti semplici e belli. Architetture come quelle di Stirling o degli Smithson sono documenti del Novecento di valore mondiale

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  • This is unbelievable. With nearly 30,000? (not sure of the number now) registered architects, and 5.000? students? we can only muster 2.000 people worldwide??? Surely we can do better than this? RHG is a major landmark of 20c architecture. If we lose it we lose a key part of the modernist story.

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