Goodbye, Robin Hood Gardens

It is hard to believe that it is almost ten years since TreeHugger first wrote about the imminent demolition of one of the most influential housing projects in the world, Alison and Peter Smithson's Robin Hood Gardens in London. I quoted Amanda Baillieu in my first post back in February, 2008, who summarized why it should be saved: "This is not simply because we believe the building is architecturally important. The issue goes far beyond architecture and raises questions about exactly why vast resources are thrown at demolishing buildings simply because they are seen to belong to the unfashionable ideology of a previous era."

There were many reasons to save this building, from the architectural to the environmental to the historic. New York Times critic Nicholas Ouroussoff, wrote in 2008 about why it should be saved:

Construction is one of the largest single producers of carbon dioxide. In the age of global warming, deciding to tear down and rebuild rather than think through whether a project can be salvaged has obvious ethical implications.

Yet an equally important issue is how we treat the cities we inherit and the memories they hold. Condemning an entire historical movement can be a symptom of intellectual laziness. It can also be a way to avoid difficult truths.

Architecture attains much of its power from the emotional exchanges among an architect, a client, a site and the object itself. A spirited renovation of Robin Hood Gardens would be a chance to extend that discourse across generations.

Robin Hood Gardens© Sandra Lousada, 1972 © The Smithson Family Collection

Since then, brutalist buildings of this vintage, like the Barbican or Erno Goldfinger's Trellick Tower have become hot properties as people recognize their architectural value. But despite incredible support from the architectural community, all attempts to save this building failed. In the most recent one, Simon Smithson, son of Alison and Peter, talked about the building, defended the building and attacked the preservation groups that refused to step up for this one:

They say brutalism is back (these are not my words but the title of a recent article in New York Times). And if you're in any doubt, pop down to Foyles on the Charing Cross Road and see the myriad of books in praise of this period of architecture. How is it then that those tasked with protecting the important buildings from this period of our history (and yes modern now is historic) are so far adrift of the mark – from the architectural profession, from the academic world, writers, commentators, the travel industry (yes there are indeed concrete tours!) and even the fashion industry?

Read his full statement here in Dezeen.


Now, after ten years of demolition by neglect (or to use my new favourite term, Predatory Delay) the bulldozers are on site and the demolition has started.

Robin Hood gardens replacement© CF Møller

The building will be replaced by what looks like a nice project by some talented architects but oh, what we have lost. See all our posts on the subject below in Related Links.

Tags: Ban Demolition | London | Preservation

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