Poplar, in the east of London, is home to two blocks of housing that are providing a symbolic battleground for lovers and haters of modernist, brutalist architecture.
It was recently announced that Robin Hood Gardens – a 1970s housing estate – has not been listed for heritage protection by the UK government. This means that it is now, once again, threatened with demolition. The Twentieth Century Society, the national amenity society of which I am deputy chairman, has been in the vanguard of a long-running campaign to protect this building for posterity.
Robin Hood Gardens was designed by Alison and Peter Smithson for the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, and completed in 1972. These buildings were not meant to be attractive: in a sense, that is the whole point of them. They are a statement of the Smithson’s thinking on residential architecture – a subject that had possessed them since they first designed an assertively “ugly” concrete house for a site in Soho.
The Smithsons could be elegant designers when they wanted to be. The three towers forming the Economist development in St James’s Street, London, certainly are. And their school at Hunstanton in Norfolk – with which they launched their career – looks terrific, even if it was, in almost every respect, technologically incompetent. […]