Is This London Project a Landmark, or Blight?

Robin Hood Gardens is a 70s era, Brutalist public housing complex. Preservationists say it is historic; the government wants to tear it down. Reporter Nicolai Ouroussoff pays the project a visit to determine for himself.

"Just traveling to the complex can be an unwelcome lesson in failed urban policy. On my trip the Docklands Light Railway train from central London broke down, requiring me to board a garbage-strewn school bus and then two trains to reach my destination. The long walk from the station was even worse: a retrospective of failed public-housing design through the decades.

By the time I got there my enthusiasm had dwindled. My first view of Robin Hood Gardens was from across a busy roadway. The complex is surrounded by a ring of forbidding concrete walls tilted outward to block out noise. Just beyond this ring, ramps lead to underground parking, forming a kind of moat between the buildings and the street. The facades are in decrepit shape. Even on a rare sunny London day the project's famous concrete walkways, which the Smithsons called "streets in the air," look gray and melancholy. The rows of concrete mullions, a play on Mies van der Rohe's steel I-beams, give the facade the aura of a medieval fortification."

Full Story: Rethinking Postwar Design in London

Comments

Comments

Ouroussoff Contradicts Himself More Blatantly Than Usual

"Condemning an entire historical movement can be a symptom of intellectual laziness. It can also be a way to avoid difficult truths."

Ouroussoff has never criticized the modernists for condemning all the historical revival styles of the nineteenth century. In fact, he has built his entire career on condemning the current historical movement back toward traditional architecture and urbanism, as he does once again in this article:

"the aggressive concrete forms that gave the movement its name are a welcome antidote to the saccharine Disney-inspired structures of today.

He fails to take his own advice about not condemning an entire historical movement. He is avoiding difficult truths by condemning this entire historical movement, and he is showing off his own intellectual lazyiness by repeating his usual cliche: "Disney-inspired."

In reality, many backers on new traditional architecture are eclectic and include modernism as one of many architectural styles they will use. On the other hand, both mid-century modernists and today's avant-gardists (including Ouroussoff) condemn entire historical movements.

Charles Siegel

ouroussoff

Ouroussoff has spent too much time around the black turtleneck crowd listening to their obscure theoretical archi-babble lectures. In this bubble, anything other than European architecture from 1925-1965 and the 8 starchitects of today simply isnt architecture or design. Non-Modernist architecture is either outright ignored or ridiculed as kitsch, pastiche, Disney, nostalgic, etc.

Prepare for the AICP Exam

Join the thousands of students who have utilized the Planetizen AICP* Exam Preparation Class to prepare for the American Planning Association's AICP* exam.
Starting at $199
Planetizen Courses image ad

Planetizen Courses

Advance your career with subscription-based online courses tailored to the urban planning professional.
Starting at $14.95 a month
Wood necklace with city map

City Necklaces

These sweet pendants are engraved on a cedar charm with a mini map of selected cities. The perfect gift for friends and family or yourself!
$28.00

Stay thirsty, urbanists

These sturdy water bottles are eco-friendly and perfect for urbanists on the go.
$19.00