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Concrete Dreams and the Demolition of Robin Hood Gardens

by | Sep 24, 2015 | Project updates | 0 comments

A research and photography project exploring the lived experience and demolition of the Robin Hood Gardens council estate in Poplar east London, the Brutalist ‘streets in the sky’ development by pioneering British architects Alison and Peter Smithson.

The imminent demolition of Robin Hood Gardens indexes the wider destruction of council housing, in a geographical site on the fault-line of inequality where the wealthy part of London’s Docklands meets and ejects some of the UK’s poorest communities. It marks also the dramatic end of quality mass housing through modernist architecture, as this Brutalist slum clearance is itself declared unfit for human habitation after only 40 years. Deploying the stigmatizing rhetoric of the ‘sink estate’ and ‘concrete monstrosity’, the local and national state has appropriated residents’ dissatisfaction with poor maintenance to its case for demolition, so justifying clearance of a low-income and socially diverse community from secured council tenancies and high-value land.

Conversely, high-profile champions of the estate have favoured the ‘heroic’ and ‘magical’ architectural qualities of its undulating paired buildings and extraordinary garden and mound. But in this aesthetic image of Robin Hood Gardens the social relations of council housing and the lived experience of modernist architecture have fallen away.

Insisting on the interplay of aesthetic and social form, this project foregrounds residents’ experiences, drawing together architecture, housing policy, and people under the fraught conditions of demolition. The research comprises interviews and photographs of residents in their homes, and peer research by young residents of the estate.

We are keen to hear from residents who would like to be interviewed and/or photographed as part of the project. We also welcome contact from past residents who are willing to share memories of their time on the estate or photographs of their flats and life at Robin Hood Gardens.

Principal Investigator: Dr Nick Thoburn. Contact: N.Thoburn@manchester.ac.uk

Photographer: Kois Miah. Contact: mail@koismiah.co.uk

Research Assistants: Aklima Begum and Runa Khalique

This project is a partnership with campaigning charities South Poplar and Limehouse Action for Secure Housing (SPLASH) and Docklands Outreach. The research is funded by the British Academy and the Leverhulme Trust.

All images © Kois Miah

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