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Thursday24 July 2014

Robin Hood Gardens will not be listed

Robin Hood Gardens
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Robin Hood Gardens estate will not be listed, the government announced on Tuesday.

Despite massive support for BD’s campaign from leading international architects including Richard Rogers, Zaha Hadid and Norman Foster, architecture minister Margaret Hodge, said the East London estate designed by Alison and Peter Smithson, is "not fit for purpose".

Her full statement reads: "This has been a tough and finely-balanced case which has rightly been considered openly and with great care. I have received expert advice and opinion from a number of sources and was shown round the estate a few days ago to see it for myself, both inside and out.

"The architects' brief was to design a place fit for people to live, of course. But in that respect, I agree with my expert advisors English Heritage, that it simply doesn't work. When functional failures are fundamental, it raises questions about the architectural performance of the building and thus its claims to special interest.

"As well as this, features such as the stairwells and the boundary wall demonstrate the 'bleakness of design' that the experts have highlighted. Although I accept that it was designed by distinguished architects, I do not think that their reputation outweighs the evidence that Robin Hood Gardens was not innovative in terms of the 'streets-in-the-air' concept and it is not fit for purpose."

Earlier this year English Heritage recommended that the 1970s scheme was not worth protecting despite its own advisory committee recommending listing.

Full coverage of the campaign to Save Robin Hood Gardens

Full statement from Lord Bruce-Lockart, chairman of English Heritage

The Department for Culture Media and Sport has agreed with English Heritage’s advice and confirmed that the Robin Hood Gardens estate does not meet all the criteria necessary for listed status.

Our advice not to list was made with the utmost careful consideration. The reasons were:

Firstly, in our opinion, as a piece of community architecture, it fails as a place for human beings to live – and did so from the start. Its bleak entrance lobbies, prison-like boundary wall, the too few, narrow, twisting stairwells and the inadequate access to the long decks and people’s front doors do not make for a pleasing and comfortable environment.

Secondly, it was neither innovative nor influential. By the time the estate was built, in 1972, it was already out of date and at the tail-end of a movement, rather than the beginning. Park Hill in Sheffield was built a decade earlier, on a much more confident scale and its “streets in the sky” were therefore more innovative as well as being wider and more accessible.

Lastly, the building, in itself, does not compare successfully with other 20th century estates listed at grade ll, such as the Barbican and the Brunswick Centre. There are 13 listed post-war estates in London alone.

We certainly agree that the Smithsons had a strong reputation as major architectural theorists and EH has previously listed three of their finest schemes. The Robin Hood Gardens estate, however, attracted little admiration from critics at the time or in the immediate later years. It is only very recently that it seems to have found favour in some vocal quarters.

Listing decisions must be robust, objective and free from campaign pressure – however passionate and sincere. In our view, love it or loathe it, this one does not make the grade.

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Readers' comments (15)

  • This is very regrettable. I am sure these distinguished buildings could be used in many ways. Their loss is bound to be condemned in the future. The massive pollution and waste caused by their demolition cannot be justified.

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  • I wonder how many other buildings which have been listed in the past would not be deemed 'fit for purpose'? This is a barmy new idea which has beeen introduced into the listing process, which no longer seems to be about preserving parts of our architectural heritage, but is a political minefield.

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  • A victory for common sense!

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  • I wonder how long it will be before the plastic apartments that will replace Robin Hood Gardens become 'unfit for purpose'.

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  • An excellent decision! Hopefully the new construction will be truly urban. Pulling down our historical mistakes and then repeat them is not a good way to go, still it is still very common today to build the way planners "think" we want to live, rather than actually finding out how people like to live... (which is done by studying rather than asking people).

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  • Fit for which purpose? English Architecture is dominated by mediocre ideal, small minded pragmatism and petty common sense, wich are basically the negations of architecture itself. Not only we have ceased to dream, we enjoy demolishing the few remains of courage still existing in our cities... (By the way could you please define how is it that all people really want to live? )

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  • This decision has nothing to do with the merits of RHG and everything to do with developer pressure to free up a highly lucrative site close to Canary Wharf. That's what the government cares about most. And EH is a government-funded body.

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  • Lord Bruce-Brainfreeze can drivel on all he likes about Robin Hood Gardens. 'Love it or loathe it, this one does not make the grade...' Who does he think he is - Simon Cowell? It is depressing because in the end this is a judgement about who we are. English Heritage has decided that we don't like the look of it, that we think it wasn't as innovative as Park Hill and that the Smithsons were mere theorists anyway. It's been years since I read the architects' original proposals for Robin Hood, but I remember their warmth...the brief criteria included stuff like ' where will November 5 be celebrated?' Robin Hood is a living, if moribund, link to a more optimistic sense of social justice. Public sector rented housing, however well-intentioned, must now be expunged from our memory, so it doesn't tweak our conscience. If it's broke, don't fix it. English Heritage can say what it likes, but not in my f***ing name.

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  • I wonder if Richard Rogers, Zaha Hadid or Norman Foster would like to live in the RHG. The building is undoubtedly of architectural value but probably isn't a very nice place to live. The cost to make it a nice place to live and pressure from developers mean demolishing it and building something clad in wood is seen as better option. It looks like progress!

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  • The chattering classes may love to live in an architecural experiment, but it was not designed for them. Those for whom it was designed do not like it. That is a failure. Being a celebrity architect does not give you a right to have your collection preserved regardless of the merits of the particular building. If I were the Smithsons I would prefer this blot on my copybook to be erased.

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