Concrete and Council Housing: The Class Architecture of Brutalism 'As Found' at Robin Hood Gardens

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Abstract

It is commonly appreciated that issues of ‘class’ are significant to Brutalist architecture, yet in the two main trends of today’s Brutalist critical revival, the place and features of class are sidelined or obscured. Addressing that problem, this article proposes an original concept of ‘class architecture’ through analysis of the social and aesthetic form of Robin Hood Gardens, the east London council estate designed by ‘New Brutalist’ architects Alison and Peter Smithson and currently undergoing demolition. The concept of class architecture is developed here in two ways. First, it appraises the imagistic aspects of the estate’s route to demolition, as the urban ejection of working-class populations is cloaked and lent motive force by its repackaging as a ‘blitz’ on the putative ‘concrete monstrosities’ of post-war estates. Second, class architecture reconstructs how class – a fraught and unstable condition, ever pulled out of shape – is modulated in Robin Hood Gardens’ built form. Through these two aspects of class architecture, the article seeks to reclaim the aesthetics of Brutalism from discourses of abjection and the burgeoning ‘middle-class Brutalism’ that would cleanse concrete modernism of its working-class dimensions. Based on three years’ research at Robin Hood Gardens, the article enlists the Smithsons’ critically neglected methodology of the ‘as found’ and draws on interviews with residents, site observation, photography, and the Smithsons’ architectural writing.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages21
JournalCity: Analysis of urban trends, culture, theory, policy, action
Volume22
Issue number5-6
Early online date27 Nov 2018
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2018

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