Lonely Planet Writer

A section of a London council estate is being taken to Venice Biennale

A salvaged fragment  of a housing estate that is currently being demolished in East London is to be sent to the Venice Architectural Biennale in May. London’s V&A Museum acquired a three-storey section of the sprawling Robin Hood Gardens last year,  and last week announced it is to transport  supplementary pieces from the demolition on a barge to Italy for the world famous design exhibition.

The 213 flat estate, designed and built by famed brutalist architects Peter and Alison Smithson in the late 1960s with the vision of ‘streets in the sky’. Image by Getty

Robin Hood Gardens was built in the 1960s and hailed as one of the finest examples of brutalist architecture in Western Europe. The housing project was designed by the Smithsons, at the time Britain’s most influential architects, with the vision of it becoming a prime example of a social housing development.  Alison and Peter Smithson had a vision for the estate to represent a new way of living, and was a reaction to the tower blocks that were springing up all over London.

Alison Smithson on one of the ‘streets in the sky’ decks in Robin Hood Gardens, taken 1970s. Image by Smithson Family Collection

Yet Robin Hood Gardens was marred with social problems and the estate was poorly maintained and blighted by crime. A campaign to have it preserved and listed, with signatures from the likes of the late architect Zaha Hadid was unsuccessful, and bulldozers moved in. However, the V&A managed to  salvage a three-storey section of each façade and the original interior fittings of two flats.

The estate was blighted by social problems and crime over the decades. Image by The Victoria and Albert Museum

Entitled ‘Robin Hood Garden, a Ruin in Reverse’ the exhibition will reconstruct one of the estate’s aerial walkways, tagged  ‘streets in the sky’ when the building was first unveiled over 50 years ago, designed by the Smithsons to foster interaction between neighbours.

The view from a flat inside Robin Hood Gardens, 1970s. Image by The Smithson Family Collection

Dr Olivia Horsfall Turner, curator of the 2018 Pavilion of Applied Arts, explains why they chose to save a section from demolition: “Robin Hood Gardens embodied such a bold vision for housing provision yet less than 50 years after its completion it is being torn down. Out of the ruins of Robin Hood Gardens, we want to look again at the Smithson’s original ideals and ask how they can inform and inspire current thinking about social housing.”

The three-floor section (marked out)of the brutalist buidling that has been preserved by the V&A. Image by The Victoria and Albert Museum

Inside the pavilion, the V&A has commissioned a new work by Korean artist Do Ho Suh which will present a panoramic record of the architecture and interiors before they are torn down. Through archival photographs and specially-recorded interviews, the exhibition looks at the vision and fate of Robin Hood Gardens and asks what we can learn from its ruins.