Art Review: Robin Hood Gardens Re-Visions

Dean Nicholas
By Dean Nicholas Last edited 113 months ago
Art Review: Robin Hood Gardens Re-Visions

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Image by Doilum
Facing a losing battle in their fight to preserve Seventies-vintage housing block Robin Hood Gardens, the 20th Century Society and RIBA have gone on the offensive with a photography show dedicated to showing the building in its best possible light.

Photographs by Ioana Marinescu of the Poplar council estate, a key work by husband-and-wife team Peter & Alison Smithson, adorn the walls of Gallery 2 at RIBA's Portland Place HQ, and the images, shot using a medium format camera, achieve the desired affect: the grey, elongated concrete reclines elegantly against the steel-and-glass conformism of near neighbours in Canary Wharf. The Smithsons' vision of a 'street in the sky' appears vindicated in these beautiful compositions, and it makes you wonder how Britain's social housing projects so often went awry.

But awry they certainly went, and this show's very existence points to the difficult relationship that exists between architects and aesthetes who extoll the virtues of buildings considered canonical, and those who actually live in them. And it's those very residents who are conspicuous by their absence in this show: shot after shot of beautifully-lit béton brut, with few inclinations towards the humanity that seethes within. Against the wishes of many starchitects, it's these residents who want to see the building torn down and rebuilt from the ground up.

At the rear of the gallery is a TV showing a documentary by Martin Ginestie, which does delve into the living conditions at Robin Hood, along with a number of (often pie-eyed) plans by University of Greenwich students on how the buildings could be sensitively redeveloped instead of taking a wrecking ball to the jaw. They might have a chance now, given that Tower Hamlet's plan to redevelop the site has sprung a £13 million hole.

The assorted elements trying to save RHG will hope that a recession-led delay will give them time to build a case, and this show is the focal point of that effort. While it succeeds aesthetically, it won't change hearts and minds, and is unlikely to convince otherwise those who believe that the architectural profession pays fealty to form and seldom to function.

Robin Hood Gardens: Re-Visions is at RIBA, 66 Portland Place, until 26th August. Entry is free.

Last Updated 05 July 2009