SOLUTIONS TO THE PROBLEMS OF LIVING
So, Robin Hood Gardens will be demolished - none of us can be too surprised about that.
My immediate query is whether the existing tenants will be guaranteed Council tenancies elsewhere in Tower Hamlets. It would surely be wrong to place them in the hands of the market, yet if they are prioritised to the top of the Housing Register, what about the other people in TH who need Council housing? The argument for keeping RHG was, after all, as much pragmatic as aesthetic, though my recent summery trip to the two blocks was something of a revelation after my first visit earlier in the spring.
I had assumed the demolition would mean that Hunstanton School was the last relic of the Smithsons' architectural career. But apparently they designed and built a country retreat in Wiltshire:
The Smithsons bought the property in 1958, part of a group of farm buildings including a stone cottage that had been served with a demolition order. Instead of razing the existing building, the new two-storey pavilion is superimposed on parts of the old structure. The old stone doesn’t just give texture to the new building - it also makes us look at the past with fresh eyes, as old parts are found in surprising places. A massive chimney wall - once the end wall of the cottage - now cuts through the upper and lower living spaces. The outdoor terrace was once inside the old house, so that a cottage window is now set in the garden wall to playful and slightly surreal effect.
The remains of the original cottage not only provide a framework to anchor the new wood and glass structure, they also root the new building in the local history. It is a wonderful illustration of the Smithsons’ ‘as found’ theory, where instead of the earlier modernist pursuit of gleaming newness, the architects reuse and reinvent the existing.
The startling aspect of Solar Pavilion is its utter basicness.
A few years earlier, in 1956, for the seminal pop art exhibition This is Tomorrow at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, the Smithsons contributed Patio and Pavilion, a shed made of second-hand wood and a corrugated plastic roof. They intended it to be read as a symbolic habitat embracing what they considered basic human needs - a piece of ground, a view of the sky, privacy, the presence of nature. Solar Pavilion embodies such thinking about the fundamentals that nourish not just man’s physical but also spiritual needs.
And thus a new genre is born : let's hear three cheers for Bucolic Brutalism!