The Twentieth Century Society

Campaigning for outstanding buildings

C20 Director writes to The Guardian in response to Simon Jenkins’ article

The Editor, The Guardian

Poor old Robin Hood Gardens—the East London public housing estate turned down for listing once more by DCMS yesterday got a double bashing from Guardian writers in yesterday’s paper.  Both Steve Rose’s and Simon Jenkins’ comments show just how conflicted we are about the history of modernism, and how emotive this area remains—especially when the focus is on public housing.    Rose suggests that it’s only RHG’s “celebrity” credentials as one of the few buildings by pioneering husband and wife couple Alison and Peter Smithson that give it any interest, whilst Jenkins can’t get over the fact that architects of the generation  “who welcomed the destruction of Georgian and Victorian neighborhoods” now want one of their own creations preserved—essentially he’s crying “not fair!”

The C20 Society has called for the preservation for RHG, and continues to do so—because we think it is a great building with a viable future for a flourishing community.  Jenkins’ uses “brutalist” as pejorative term to demonize architecture that he doesn’t like, rather than simply a stylistic label that needs to be better understood.   As a past supporter of the C20, he helped develop a popular appreciation of once reviled architecture of the interwar period—exactly what we are now trying to do for the next generation of buildings—an exhibition and conference on RHG and the issues around its future are planned.

Meanwhile, with the property market in its current state, the projected scheme to replace RHG with a mix of housing association and private housing doesn’t stack up financially—let alone environmentally.   A funding system that seems unable to find the money for the sort of major refurbishment that any building needs after forty years hard use, needs replacement: RHG still has lots to offer.


Catherine Croft
Director C20 Society
May 15, 2009