Posts Tagged ‘London buildings’

Robin Hood Gardens – the video

Architectural critic of the Guardian, Jonathan Glancey, has produced a really stunning video about Robin Hood Gardens, one of London’s most notable modernist buildings (which I posted as a modernist icon some time ago).

It’s a two-winged, long, low concrete building, with flats splayed along wide balconies – a horizontal expanse rather than a skyscraper. In the centre, landscaped gardens were planned to provide residents with a green space, but you can still see how the conical hill – now inhabited by wildlife – has a stark geometry which is utterly modernist. This doesn’t come out so clearly now, but look at the architectural drawings that are shown in the video and you’ll see the pristine neatness of the original idea.

Unfortunately the estate has been poorly maintained. From ‘posh flats’ as one resident remembers them, it’s dropped in status to a ’sink estate’, with broken glass, lifts that don’t work, leaky roofs. Fortunately the video has access to architectural models and drawings that show what the estate was meant to be like. Slagging it off for being litter-strewn and poorly maintained is as justifiable an architectural comment as saying that Beethoven’s Fur Elise is rubbish because your twelve year old kid plays it badly.

That’s not the architects’ fault – it’s the council’s. View the video and you’ll be impressed by the originality of the architects’ vision – and the spaciousness of the rooms. If only someone was committed to spending money on making it work!

No doubt the council has worked out that if they knock the place down, they can move people into rabbit hutches conforming to minimum space standards – there won’t be enough room to swing a cat. (You can actually see the cat that wouldn’t have room to be swung in one of the interviews.)

If it came to a choice between this building and the blank towers of Canary Wharf with their gleaming investment banks and massive datacentres, I know which I’d choose. It’s difficult to remember it now, but the 1950s and 1960s witnessed a real humanist vision of society and architecture – and ultimately it’s the sheer idealism of Robin Hood Gardens that I find appealing.

I have to admit though that visiting the estate is not, to be frank, as impressive a trip as, say, Hampton Court or the Banqueting House. Versailles this ain’t – particularly on a grey and rainy day when the concrete really doesn’t look its best.

Where: London E 14 – Blackwall DLR station (map)

Photo by Steve Cadman on flickr

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