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Friday01 August 2014

New Robin Hood Gardens residents survey challenges demolition

New photography of Robin Hood Gardens from the exhibition
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Council and Homes & Communities Agency committed to bulldozing estate as Twentieth Century Society pledges new fight

Robin Hood Gardens residents have not been properly consulted about the future of the estate despite renewed attempts to demolish it, new evidence suggests.

In the face of BD’s campaign to save the landmark Smithsons-designed buildings in east London, Tower Hamlets Council has consistently claimed that more than 80% of residents are in favour of bulldozing it and re-housing them in new homes.

But resident Darren Pauling, who has lived at Robin Hood Gardens for more than a decade, has now carried out his own survey with the help of Bengali interpreters. It suggests that around 80% in fact want Robin Hood Gardens retained and refurbished.

BD revealed last year that the consultation leaflets used by the council pushed the public to reject refurbishment by listing six positive outcomes of demolition including new community facilities compared to only three associated with redevelopment.

“I managed to speak to 60 people in the [eastern] building and 48 of those said they wanted it refurbished,” Pauling said. “Where is the council getting this figure of 80% from? I’ve had concerns about this right from the start and I’ve got the sense that the council has always tried to persuade us this is the best option.”

Jon Wright caseworker at the Twentieth Century Society – which along with BD has campaigned to save the estate – also raised concerns about consultation, claiming the society had been blocked from attending a recent meeting with residents organised on behalf of the council’s development partner the Homes & Communities Agency.

“What have they got to lose?” he said. “It’s pathetic because it was a perfectly reasonable thing to request given our involvement.”

A spokeswoman for Tower Hamlets said it had consulted with 110 homes on the 213-apartment estate, which she insisted represented a “good cross section”.

Steve Oakes, north London area director for the Homes & Communities Agency, said it was reasonable to exclude the Twentieth Century Society from “focused” meetings with residents.

“The meetings are more concerned about housing and what sort of housing [the residents] should have, not the sort of appeals the society has been concerned with,” he said.

He added that the HCA was now pressing ahead with its demolition plans following the government’s decision to give Robin Hood Gardens immunity from listing.

Where is the council getting this figure of 80% from?

Robin Hood Gardens resident, Darren Pauling

“We have got to put [housing] up before we can start decanting people, but we’d like to see something happening in the next two years,” he said.

New exhibition keeps up the pressure


Martin Ginestie
Martin Ginestie


Robin Hood Gardens will feature in a new exhibition at the RIBA organised by the Twentieth Century Society and the RIBA Trust and sponsored by the University of Greenwich.

Robin Hood Gardens Re-Visions will run from July 4 till August 26, featuring new photography of the estate by Ioana Marinescu, a documentary film by Martin Ginestie, archive material, and projects by diploma students at the University of Greenwich.

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Readers' comments (7)

  • Over the whole of the 'Blackwall Reach Regeneration Site' the Council wants 500 new homes. There are now funding problems with this project. Also in line for demolition is a Doctor's Group Practice Surgery my practice built. Now the lines are once again drawn with Charles over what constitutes 'Good Architecture', I might have picked a better place to pitch my battle.

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  • I with many others am a completel sob to buildings with good quality concrete durability of iconic status. Watched the videos and on balance believe it is right due to narrow staircases and windswept balconies and lack of maintenance not to list this scheme. However the whole scheme still has a great deal going for it, the internal garden space not the least. Actually the scheme works against the odds which in the currently climate of being seen to do good is not enough to save it. The hardest factor to accept in all of this is not mentioned in in the EH video - is that the replacement scheme will build over the garden area exposing everyone to the heavy traffic noise, without any respite whatever. The fact would seem that EH/housing authorities need the extra space to build many more homes, and as Robin Hood gardens is clearly borderline (to above comment this is where the line is drawn, no need to drag C into it) the decision seems to have fallen to rebuild. Sad though this may be. If the rebuild could incorporate some of the good features of this design into the new one, then perhaps they might rekindle some important architectural support. If we want bring C into it as boringly above: it is strange to give acres of greenery to people who really don't depend on it in the Barracks, with no apparent windows in totally inward looking schemes appearing completely unintegrated into the society fabric - and then on the other hand to remove the very precious bit of greenery to a group of residents who really do depend on this factor to bring some liveable equilibrium to living spaces, and do not have the chance to decamp to the country every weekend.

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  • this is getting boring!

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  • People think the estate is run down. Which i suppose it is, but if you take the time to look a little deeper, the local authorities have admitted that the estate has been underfunded and neglected by them for over a decade. Should'nt the first questions be why?

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  • In Defense of Robin Hood Gardens: One learns that Robin Hood Gardens has been denied listing. One remembers pictures of Jencks being “mugged” on the access balconies, one remembers David Watkin’s glee “…that the Modern movement is over….”, that “… practicing architects … have temporarily suppressed the credibility of their profession by their barbarous Utopian dreams….” (1980). These memories from three decades ago have been supplanted by the end of Utopian dreams – barbarous or not – by the rise of “starchitects”, with their glorification of money. Why was this money never available for Utopian dreams of decent housing and schools and public amenities? Robin Hood Gardens was one of those – a late example – “barbarous” Utopian dreams. Now it must go. But why? One hears that some residents like it while others do not. Presumably this is true of any but the most luxurious flats. One never has enough space, the neighbors are noisy, the city itself is noisier – but those hated concrete fins are there precisely to reduce the noise from outside, the access balconies are on the outside to act as a buffer against street noise, with bedrooms on the inside where it is quieter. In fact most of what one sees has a practical – and idealistic (Utopian) – origin. While we hear demands for the destruction of these buildings we never hear reasonable reasons. The primary source of the negative reaction – as near as one can learn – is the project’s “brutality”, its lack of sympathetic elements, lack of softening touches which we find in older buildings. By chance, I was on a bus in the East End and saw Robin Hood Gardens from my window. It did not seem a very pretty part of the city, not like the squares of the West End – but not having money has always been a disadvantage, but it was those “barbarous Utopian dreams which were conceived to mitigate those disadvantages. Because something is not perfect is no reason to abandon it, starting over to build what will be hated tomorrow? The twentieth century is not unique. Think how Victorian buildings were hated, while the Victorians hated the “boring” Georgian terraces, and those boring Georgians hated their Baroque forebears and so it goes. Every city in the world has seen destructions which are later regretted. The American economist, John Kenneth Galbraith, noted that historic preservation is unique in that its actions are never regretted, that they are uniquely proven correct over time. Name an exception! Here is the president of Harvard University (not quite Oxford or Cambridge, but …) on unsympathetic buildings: "We have none, or next to none, of those coigns of vantage for the tendrils of memory or affection. Not any of our older buildings is venerable, or will ever become so. Time refuses to console them. They look as if they meant business and nothing more." But he is not speaking of Robin Hood Gardens (though you might feel that); he is speaking over one hundred years ago of Harvard Yard, now undoubtedly one of the most venerable places in the New World, buildings now cherished just for their austerity, only we prefer a softer word to express our pleasure in their simple virtue. The president was not unique in his unhappiness. Fifty years earlier a professor saw the buildings as "… barns, destitute alike of symmetry, ornament, and taste; and with all their plain and uncouth proportions, there is a horrible regularity and squareness about them which heightens their deformity." Isn’t this precisely what is being said of Robin Hood Gardens? If Robin Hood Gardens is granted even half a century, there can be little doubt that it will appear generous, even gracious. Let me cite another American example. Jefferson designed and built the University of Virginia in the first quarter of the 19th century. The buildings lack many amenities we now take for granted, but the privileged students at the university – privileged not only in having the opportunity to get a college education but also in reaching the top of the waiting list – get to live in these underserviced buildings. The visitor frequently sees a student, dressed in his bathrobe, walking to find a bathroom (perhaps similar conditions exist at Oxford and Cambridge). Last but not least, these buildings are embodied energy, part of the world’s scarcity today. Destroying them to satisfy mean-spirited people like David Watkin flies in the face of our public duty to protect embodied energy. Build new housing elsewhere – and demonstrate that you can do a better job!

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  • So far in all the press coverage surrounding Robin Hood Garden estate there has been a significant absence of the most important side of the story - that of the largely Bengali residents. I'm heartened to read about Darren Pauling's survey, and applaud the organisers of the upcoming exhibition at the RIBA It doesn't suprise me that the Council bends the truth about it's consultation results in order to back up their 'regeneration' plans. Can any regeneration scheme work by bulldozing everything in sight? There is a primary school, a newly improved doctors surgery (I read above), a mosque, and over 200 family homes with their gardens and allotments. Wouldn't it be better to try to implement a regeneration scheme that builds and improves on the existing stuctures no matter how problematic?

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  • People continuing to campaign for Robin Hood Gardens have too much free time on their hands.

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