Politician calls for immediate demolition of Robin Hood Gardens after listing bid fails


The latest bid to grant listing status to the Brutalist Robin Hood Gardens estate in east London has failed and the local MP has called for it to be "brought down ASAP".

Public body Historic England – which administers and maintains the register of England's listed buildings – has announced that the UK government will not list the historic 1970s complex designed by architects Alison and Peter Smithson.

This is in spite of the revived campaign by heritage organisation the Twentieth Century Society, which is supported by architects including Richard Rogers.

Labour politician Jim Fitzpatrick, the elected member of parliament for Poplar and Limehouse, told Dezeen that the estate's historical significance is "nonsense".

"We have two buildings from the same period and style in Glenkerry and Balfron, and in much better condition," Fitzpatrick said. "Robin Hood Gardens is well past its demolition date, and should be brought down ASAP in my view."

Robin Hood Gardens was granted a five-year immunity from heritage listing in 2009 meaning that the council was free to demolish the complex. Although demolition was scheduled it did not take place, so at the end of the five-year period the Twentieth Century Society revived its original campaign, which had gained support from architects including Robert Venturi, Zaha Hadid and Toyo Ito.

Historic England has now said that the estate "does not make the grade" for listed status and has made a recommendation for a new certificate of immunity.

Historic England's head of designation Emily Gee commented: "We assessed the complex for listing in 2008 and our advice was subject to detailed scrutiny and review. No new information has come to light that would cause us to revise our assessment, so we stand by our view that Robin Hood Gardens does not meet the very high threshold for listing."

"The complex does not equal the architectural achievement of other 20th-century estates which have been listed, such as the Barbican and Brunswick Centre in London, and Park Hill in Sheffield.

"Listing is highly selective and decisions must be made objectively. While respecting the opinions of campaigners, after careful review of all the points received by the consultees, we recommended once again that Robin Hood Gardens does not make the grade."

The Twentieth Century Society's Henrietta Billings has described the decision as "extremely disappointing".

"We were hoping the listing of the estate would bring a new, more rigorous appreciation and a fresh look at the architecture – it's why we're really keen to see it listed," Billings told Dezeen.

"The architecture has been misunderstood and under appreciated, and also unfairly maligned due to maintenance issues and underinvestment over a long period of time. This has added to the perception that it's the fault of the architecture rather than other issues around things like maintenance and general upkeep."

"This is the second time we've asked to understand the decision and how they have arrived at the decision not to list, and what expert advice they used to reach that conclusion," she added.

Robin Hood Gardens by Alison and Peter Smithson

Based on the Brutalist concept of "streets in the sky", the 213-apartment estate was completed in 1972. Architects Alison and Peter Smithson had already established themselves as key protagonists of "New Brutalism", with projects including the Economist Building in Piccadilly and Smithdon High School in Hunstanton, Norfolk.

Richard Rogers recently described the Robin Hood Gardens as post-war Britain's "most important" social housing development, adding that the case for listing is "stronger than ever".

In an open letter co-signed by the Smithson's son and Rogers' colleague Simon Smithson, he wrote: "The buildings, which offer generously sized flats that could be refurbished, are of outstanding architectural quality and significant historic interest, and public appreciation and understanding of the value of Modernist architecture has grown over the past five years, making the case for listing stronger than ever."

"Last time listing was considered the views of the architectural community were ignored but we believe there is now a real chance of saving the building for posterity but only if the minister hears, first hand, the views of the profession on the architectural merits of these exceptional buildings."

Property developer Swan is planning new housing to replace Robin Hood Gardens, with the backing of Tower Hamlets council.

The Twentieth Century Society has issued a Freedom of Information request in a bid to fully reveal the processes behind the decision. Going forward, the organisation will "have to decide whether we want to challenge or ask for a review," Henrietta Billings told Dezeen.

A spokesperson for the UK government's Department of Culture, Media and Sport said: "[Historic England] were clear it did not meet requirements for listing" but declined to comment further. Government heritage minister Tracey Crouch was unavailable for comment.

Photography is by Luke Hayes.

  • spadestick

    Knock it down please. Park Hill is way better. This one has too many unnecessary embellishments on it that don’t contribute to function or structure. There’s nothing going for it.

  • James

    Typical architectural ignorance by a short-sighted MP.

  • Tom

    It obviously doesn’t fall into Historic England’s elusive ‘Constructive Conservation’ category, though it’s been mentioned numerous times that it is much easier to conserve than Park Hill was.

  • Tom

    Let this failure crumble.

  • Barkshake

    Sorry to hear they haven’t listed it second time round either! Architectural tastes aside, Tower Hamlets will have some kind of housing credits deal where they are paid a lump sum in cash by the developer in order to sidestep their affordable/social housing commitments in the new development. It’s what usually happens.

    If not that, then a third-party company will be contracted to demonstrate the lack of ‘economic viability’ of affordable housing on that particular site, and why the developer should be given an exemption from the legal requirements.

    The real kicker here is that the companies who do these ‘assessments’ for the developers are the same ones who assess these very same assessments for the council! The loopholes in the system really are staggering.

    • l’oncleb

      Do developers really have a monopoly on the vision of the future? Or might they be as susceptible to building carbuncles as any local council?

  • Social housing is a symptom of a great failure in governed society. Preserving outdated while expensive-to-maintain relics from the past, prevents money from going to current or new social projects. Even on that level, they are wasteful.

    Sell the property to a developer and have them demolish. Quit adding to the local debt, when this building can be perfectly preserved in the digital realm.

  • l’oncleb

    Abroad, Alison and Peter Smithson are hailed and celebrated. Here in the UK, we cannot seem to look past the texture and patina of an undervalued and appallingly maintained structure that is the Robin Hood Gardens.


    “Peter Smithson are among the most important and most versatile architects of the postwar period, both in England and at international level.”



    Obviously, it takes considerable effort to look past the estate’s present state of disrepair and the occasional burning car. To many eyes, it is another emblem of a failed architectural optimism – an equal society even – that never lived up to, or made good on the gallant modern life it promised.

    Knocking it down is a great chance to quickly remove this blight and build something “palatable” and profitable in its place – conserving it will certainly be a tall order – there is not doubt. And presently, the estate lacks support in the right places to preserve what now seems its inevitable demise.

    Yet, whilst elevating the estate to the stature of a national monument is absurd, it might be worth considering if it is not worth conserving as a living typology that belongs to rich heritage of UK housing efforts in London and further afield.

    Far worse examples of housing are being conserved and worse still, built afresh! Like the previously reviled and now revered Unite d’Habitation in Marseille, the Barbican, National Theatre, Preston Bus Station, to name but a few… And where exactly the Robin Hood sits in this hit parade of Brutalist buildings and others like it is no doubt debatable.

    We should take stock of the valuable thought that the Smilthsons have poured into conceiving and building this estate – with its function and Brutalist ornament alike – and see if it is not possible and valuable to use the buildings like they were once intended. For if London is to densify, and densify it must, this is exactly the sort of thing we should be looking at improving upon for future generations.

    As an invention of post-war Britain, it should at be least given due consideration in favour of a hasty demolition – a consideration which might seek to understand why so many abroad still look at this typology and its architects to celebrate it and emulate it, even if we in the UK seem incapable of doing the same for now!

  • Colonel Pancake

    “The architecture has been misunderstood and under appreciated.” No, it hasn’t, you bumbling doofus.

    Is there anything more condescending than telling a society it’s wrong to not love such an inhumane pile of quasi-intellectualised sh*t?

    If society widely rejects your conception of domestic architecture and refuses to live in it because it is so incompatible with their spiritual needs in a home, as architects (no matter how famous you are) you have simply lost the game of architecture and all that architecture aspires to be.

    But if you continue to maintain such a fascist and tyrannical patronage of humans as you impose your conceptions of a “better” home onto them, go ahead and be the myopic narcissist we see you to be.

    • l’oncleb

      I think you make a good point, and how true – no one, not even deified architects, should “impose” a grand vision on society, no matter what their providence.

      What makes London so charming is that it offers such a rich and eclectic mix of living styles. Isn’t that the great what makes the city such fun? Being able to sample so many different visions of how we should live, but not really a single one winning out? And wouldn’t harmonising everything under a single vision be counter productive?

    • Chris MacDonald

      Great reply.

    • Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells

      Well said. Knock down this monument to arrogance. It’s a terribly bleak and melancholy place.

  • John McGrath

    Open a competition only to students, see what they could do with it? Provide them with some measurements, some CAD files perhaps and a small cash prize; if nothing good comes out of it, knock it down.

  • Rems

    The place is a dump.

  • blau

    @spadestick: using your logic, we’d better demolish all the pre-modern buildings and their unnecessary “embellishments.”

    @colonelpancake: does society really “widely reject” this model of housing? Can you really attribute 100% of any social ills to the architectural? And using your logic, sure, we could give every individual the chance to create their own housing, rather than this “foisting from above” which you seem to decry.

    Looks like this whole debate has become more a battle for bandwidth, with for and against camps. Personally I feel there’s a lot to save here, and to improve upon. Demolishing would be an enormous waste. But hey, feel free to rebut with more inflammatory language, it makes for a nuanced and productive discourse.

    • spadestick

      There’s passion in Brutalist sculptures, there’s emotion in classical architecture, but there’s no love in this building’s facade. “When you rob the rich to give to the poor, withhold ye not the pleasure of beauty,” says Robin Hood

  • concernedfuturepractitioner

    Yeah knock it down… because we drastically need more of this kind of architecture and housing instead…

  • Tom Watts

    You can’t keep everything. It’s like when your mum tells you that you need to sort out your room and you can only keep a couple of your old things… this is not one of the things you would keep.

  • YS

    Totally disappointed by my MP Jim Fitzpatrick. What’s the point of electing someone who has no cultural awareness? These flats have amazing space and it’ll only be replaced with some hideous box-standard horrible buildings. With carefully considered refurbishments they will be amazing.

  • JayCee

    I’m afraid this decision reeks of politics. With the government’s recent green-lighting for local authorities to sidestep due planning process in order to build new housing on brown-field sites this will quickly be demolished in order for developers to construct low-density, low-quality housing of zero architectural merit purely to turn a fast buck.

  • yetitechture

    Please remember not all Modernism is worth keeping. Some projects fail… this is one of them. I love a bit of concrete but this should go. Biggest fear is the souless crap that will take its place. Probably a Tesco.

  • Filip Remplakowski

    In my opinion the concrete shell is quite beautiful, with the exception of the hideous glazing. I live close to it but I’ve never actually been inside and I don’t know the amount of space and quality of life it offers to those who live in it. It’s not the most welcoming estate and the landscaping, outer walls and dark passages don’t help.

    A development like this isn’t going to be to a lot of people’s taste and they clearly shouldn’t force people to live in something they don’t want to live in.

    It would seem irresponsible to knock it down if it could be salvaged, but if it doesn’t offer the potential for a good standard of living and is a failed execution of a conceptual endeavour then it should be torn down.

    I just fear that what will replace it will be another disposable/poorly built and unaffordable development to be added to someone’s offshore property portfolio and another dead zone for London.

  • Frogfisher

    Democracy my ass. Money counts… not votes!

  • Kay

    Bollocks, this is pure architectural bureaucratic hegemony by a few on the rest of us. Their decision to not list is purely driven by economic and social factors. The area is gentrifying, they need to get rid of pesky tenants, and they know that asking a developer to come and “preserve” a listed building will reduce the interested pool massively. Instead they would tell the developers they can knock it down, hence they can build fresh new horrible buildings as they like.

    We live in a city that knocked down a piece of beautiful history in Earl’s Court, are we really surprised they are also turning their backs on this Brutalist monolith? It’s a hard sell for the most Modernist oriented of them, let alone an organisation whose name includes the word “heritage”.

    There was never any hope. And this is a high-profile case. On the streets of the capital demolitions against Modernist masterpieces are happening every day and you wouldn’t even know about it…

  • Sophie

    This is one of the Brutalist buildings I visited for a college study (’95), and I loved being there… it was so quiet and calm compared to the madness outside. I cannot understand this decision, and am very saddened by the Labour MPs response.

    He really is showing his ignorance in this area. The Smithsons were an important part of the movement and I’m very disappointed by this decision. A sad day for architecture.

  • Serious Sam

    Anyone asked those seemingly unimportant people “the residents”?!

  • Tom

    I’m sure it’ll be replaced by some more overpriced, pokey flats for the young professionals of tomorrow to rent out forever.

  • Laura Searle

    As one of the few people who have lived at Robin Hood Gardens and The Barbican, Robin Hood Gardens has a far better designed living space. Shame about the maintenance.