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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.
March 20, 2009, 11am PDT | Tim Halbur
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"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."

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Published on Wednesday, March 18, 2009 in The New York Times
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