For the latest Final Frame, Shiri Webb looks at the challenges posed by the site for Robin Hood Gardens and the recent fight over its future…

Robin Hood Gardens under construction, Tower Hamlets, London, 1970.

Image (enlarge): Robin Hood Gardens under construction, London, 1970.
Architects: Alison & Peter Smithson
Photographer: Tony Ray-Jones
© Tony Ray-Jones / RIBA Library Photographs Collection
Image from RIBApix

What was once an intersection of three major motorways leading north, south and east of Poplar has since become an area defined by its increasingly unpopular social housing scheme. Designed by Alison and Peter Smithson and completed in 1972, Robin Hood Gardens was an urban solution to an impossible site overwhelmed by the cacophony of traffic noise. The Smithsons devised two reinforced concrete blocks which acted as noise barriers against the Blackwall Tunnel, an ample landscaped garden separating the blocks and 10ft high acoustic walls at street level. However, where the Smithsons succeeded in noise reduction, they failed in providing adequate standards of living for dwellers. They imagined the secluded deck access as ‘pause-places’, which instead encouraged criminal activity. The overall maintenance of the two blocks declined and the housing failed to receive listed status in 2008 despite a convincing argument by the Twentieth Century Society. It faces demolition this year and will be replaced by 239 new homes designed by Jestico + Whiles.

Shiri Webb
Photographer and Digital Imager, British Architectural Library, RIBA

About Wilson Yau
I work for the British Architectural Library at the RIBA as part of a team to share news, images and information online about the activities of the Library and the fascinating items we have in our architectural collections – it contains over four million items, so there's plenty to see! If you’re curious about what we do at the Library and with the collections, or want to discover the latest about our education programmes, public events and exhibitions at the RIBA, please visit www.architecture.com

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