by Christian Skovgaard Petersen
I’d read about Brutalism in connection with architecture projects at school sponsored by MI5, but by the time I’d abandoned the project, the style, the ideas it built on and the issues around it had captivated me, especially the demolition of Pimlico School and debate about the fate of Robin Hood gardens. So when I was commissioned to do a comic by publisher ‘Aben Maler’ I decided to use the opportunity to do an integration of the place and document a debate around it where is was hard to delineate what is fact and fiction.
In order to succeed in these two respects I felt I had to disentangle myself from the biases of the very opinionated debate. To do this I set up my own parameters to judge the merits of the architecture, these were based my own observations on living in London.
An example of an observation that informed the comic would be the short hand I used to determine how livable the flats were and was to make a note of how people made use of there balconies. In many London estates they’re used like spare rooms: packed with old clothes, bikes, storage boxes or the washing machine.
In Robin Hood gardens you only saw the occasional line with washing. You could conclude that the flats there are spacious and not overcrowded.
This strategy plus trying to deal with both the architecture itself and the debate around it resulted in the comic becoming an interesting but slightly confusing read.
If asked to extend beyond the findings put to paper in the comic I’d say that doing well in comparison with an average council flat is hardly an argument for being great architecture worth saving.
One of the new ideas Robin Hood gardens brought with it was the ‘streets in the sky’ -a board walk way that extends the length of buildings on every floor and which were conceived to mimic the terrace house street and inspire a sense of community.
Having a front door on street level is not desirable in the today’s East-end, on two occasions friends of mine have had their door kicked in and their flats robbed. That said there is a sense of community in Robin Hood gardens, you feel it the minute your there and that can do a lot to remedy potential down sides of this design.
Most of all Robin Hood gardens leaves me with an impression of being built on visionary ideas conceived along time ago about a future that never materialised. This is nevertheless perhaps it’s most redeeming feature and the best argument for listing it so it can inspire others.
In June at the same time as the comic came out, Robin Hood gardens was the object in a exhibition at RIBA organised by the 20. century who advocates the listing of RHG. James Goggin, representative of the vanguard of London graphic designers did the exhibition design and set the catalogue in his in vogue, sans serif version of courier underlining that RHG is now very much a cause célèbre, so a listing by popular demand isn’t unrealistic.
More pictures at Christians Flickr