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V&A acquires three-storey chunk of Robin Hood Gardens housing estate

The Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A) is to save part of one of the most controversial housing estates ever built.

A much-lauded (and derided) Brutalist experiment in public housing, Robin Hood Gardens’ snaking concrete blocks and elevated walkways wrapped around a core green space that was central to what designers Peter and Alison Smithson called “streets in the sky.”

Both designers described Robin Hood Gardens as "a demonstration of a more enjoyable way of living … a model, an exemplar, of a new mode of urban organisation".

In the years since there has been plenty of debate as to whether or not they actually achieved those goals.

The V&A has called it a “significant example of the Brutalist movement”.

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Demolition of the 252-flat estate in Tower Hamlets recently commenced after it was declared unfit for habitation and despite a long, high-profile campaign to preserve the widely heralded example of Brutalist architecture.

After campaigning by public activists, architects and preservationists, efforts to have the 1972 building listed as historically significant were repeatedly rebuked by estate officials.

The 1970s estate is being demolished to make way for a modern housing scheme.

Olivia Horsfall Turner, the museum’s Senior Curator of Designs said: “It's not just the object that we're preserving but it's the issues that we want to keep alive.

“Because of the controversial nature we're anxious that people see this as a real opportunity to maintain conversations about social housing, about urbanism.

“It's something we feel is really important as the role of public museum to keep those conversations going and provide people with compelling objects that they study and experience in order to make those issues real to them."

The V&A has acquired two sections of the estate's garden- and street-facing facades, including one of its elevated walkways.

The rescued 8.8-m-high fragment includes both the interiors and exterior façades of a maisonette flat.

The V&A currently has rooms that recreate the Renaissance interior of the Old Palace at Bromley-by-Bow, and the panelled 18th century Music Room of Norfolk House, London residence of the Dukes of Norfolk.

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