Robin Hood Gardens and the divisiveness of brutalism


IT HAS an almost mythical status in the canon of post-war British buildings. Clad in precast concrete panels, with apartments rising and descending from wide, raised decks (referred to as “streets in the sky”), Robin Hood Gardens embodies the brutalist desire to renegotiate the relationship between architecture, citizens and society. Built as two long concrete superstructures with a ceremonial mound at the centre of its ample public gardens, it is considered the realisation of the ideas that Peter and Alison Smithson, the great ideologues of brutalism, had promulgated through their teaching. The buildings, and its 252 flats, were to be a “demonstration of a more enjoyable way of living…of a new mode of urban organisation”. 

But by the time of the building’s completion in 1972, brutalism was already old hat. As with many public housing projects, the local authority budgets used to manage the estates were slashed in the late 1970s, and it fell into disrepair. Despite a campaign to have it placed on Historic England’s…Continue reading

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Redeeming Mary Magdalene

EVERY generation of artists has brought its own sensibilities and experiences to the depiction of canonical Christian stories. Giotto, an Italian painter, set Bible scenes in medieval Tuscany. Rembrandt gave his a hint of mercantile 17th-century Amsterdam. “Mary Magdalene” is similarly a retelling of some of the faith’s main events …

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FOR evidence that modern democracy has lost its pep, look back to the age of cheery campaign jingles. The art form dominated elections from America to the Philippines after the second world war. Australian political parties used them well into the 1980s. It is tempting to believe that melodious campaigns …

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