• Document: Robin Hood Gardens. A Choreographed Demolition
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Robin Hood Gardens A Choreographed Demolition Robin Hood Gardens: A Choreographed Demolition Master Thesis Karl Eriksson Matter Space Structure Chalmers University of Technology 2014 The Scene photographs The Repertoire original drawings The Event The Rehearsal site plan axonometric plan plan Balance section axonometric The Solo Act The Performance notes The Scene During the decades after the Second World War Western Europe witnessed an unprecedented housing boom and still today the houses constructed during those intense decades constitute large parts of our western cities. So was also the situation in London, where high-rise tower blocks became the modernist version of Wren’s church spires. Today these buildings are reaching a respectable age and are in need of drastic actions while at the same time the ideals from that era are frowned upon and the large scale modernist planning consider inhumane and mechanical.[i] Housing prices and shortage are both rising and as globalisation and capitalism irrevocable changes the faces of our cities[ii] it is even more important to remember and learn from our recent history. Most significantly during those intense postwar decades there was – not only an extreme momentum – but also an almost total alignment of political interests, planning ideals, production methods and architectural education and research. At the forefront of this rapid movement you will find Alison + Peter Smithson – true children of their time – building, writing and teaching. During these productive years the housing scheme Robin Hood Gardens – that reluctantly has become a symbol for this whole era – was built in East London. Completed in 1972 Robin Hood Garden is a true monument over architectural theories, prefabrication methods and political will; as well as class, segregation and the utter failure of society to care for the people in the direst need. In the past decade the fate of Robin Hood Gardens has been intensively discussed while the steel re-bars expose themselves as the concrete continues to weather away. The question has been whether to save and refurbish it or to demolish it. In 2009 Robin Hood Gardens was granted immunity against listing which effectively opened up the road to demolition. But still today, it defiantly stands tall [1]. Robin Hood Gardens seen from the Blackwall Tunnel Approach Photograph Sandra Loussada, 1972 Photograph Sandra Loussada, 1972 The Repertoire The debate about Robin Hood Gardens has been extremely black and white and quite often lost sight of the actual buildings (despite their often mentioned ’brutal’ presence) and ’the real past or present of Robin Hood Gardens’[iii]. Will it be a new Pruitt-Igoe (demolished in April 1972 - the same year RHG was completed) or another refurbish success story like the Park Hill Estate in Sheffield (short-listed for the 2013 RIBA Stirling Prize)? I would argue that the complexity of Robin Hood Gardens (and indeed many other similar housing schemes) requires a third way – an untameable way of contradictions with a debate full of paradoxes, feelings and controversy – a repertoire that is neither black or white. Through exposing the architectural paradoxes of Robin Hood Gardens the architecture also stops being objectified. It becomes a subject, an agent, the protagonist of what is to be the choreographed fate of this large housing complex. The repertoire builds on Smithson’s original ideas and investigations on housing, the city and the landscape. Robin Hood Gardens will dance one last waltz – a choreographed demolition – that captivates the audience; changes direction and intensity; for a minute freezes in space hardly breathing, before once again exploding in to movement: “... as if the dancer had been ’carving space out of a pliable substance’.” [iv] The endlessly variable dance is created out of a repertoire with a strict set of ‘moves’ from three different categories: Subtraction, Addition and Cumulation. These moves are an architectural representation of the existence, the debate and theories that Robin Hood Gardens encapsulate. When combined and executed these moves unlock the many paradoxes of Robin Hood Gardens and architecturally expose and arrange them in front of the observer: rhythm repetition urbanism housing ordinariness uniqueness city landscape structure space These paradoxes also question the profit driven pseudo democratic political process of regeneration. Instead of observing the architecture as an object it becomes – through this choreographed exposure – an instrument of change. An instrument that utilises the structure of Robin Hood Gardens to set the framework for a new type of redevelopment w

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