London’s Victoria and Albert Museum has acquired a three-story maisonette from Robin Hood Gardens, a sprawling London residential estate that was destined to be demolished.
An important example of Brutalist architecture, Robin Hood Gardens was designed by husband and wife team Alison and Peter Smithson as the culmination of their research into social housing and completed in 1972.
The Smithsons are credited with coining the term Brutalism, a movement that arose in the 1950s in reaction to modernism and was characterized by a dramatic use of exposed concrete and, more broadly, by its new approach to the relationship between society, architecture and urbanism.
At Robin Hood Gardens, the Brutalist approach is seen in elements such as noise-reducing features that appear as exterior concrete fins and elevated walkways intended to foster interactions between neighbors.
According to the V&A, the Smithsons said they regarded Robin Hood Gardens “as a demonstration of a more enjoyable way of living … a model, an exemplar, of a new mode of urban organisation,” although debate has long been heated about whether the building achieved these aspirations.
The 2008 announcement of plans to demolish Robin Hood Gardens to make way for redevelopment prompted a major interntaional campaign for its preservation, supported by leading architects such as Zaha Hadid and Richard Rogers.
The V&A’s work to acquire a fragment from the building is a testament to its legacy and will have been no easy feat. The three-story section includes both facades and interiors of a maisonette flat, complete with a section of the elevated walkway known as “street in the sky.”
It will join other large fragments of London architecture in the museum’s collection including the 17th-century timber facade of Sir Paul Pindar’s House in Bishopsgate and the gilded Music Room salvaged from Norfolk House in St. James’s Square. JB
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