From Urban Idea to Museum Piece

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"The V&A's acquisition of a section of Robin Hood Gardens, complete with front and back facades, will motivate new thinking and research into this highly experimental period of British architectural and urban history." (Dr Neil Bingham, Curator of Contemporary Architectural Collections at the Victoria & Albert Museum, quoted at After years of heated debate about the qualities of the housing estate Robin Hood Gardens, designed by Alison & Peter Smithson, the complex was finally demolished last fall. The attempts to have the buildings listed failed, and the housing estate reached a life span of only 45 years. That is, if we think of Robin Hood Gardens as a concrete, physical phenomenon. But we could also think of this contested piece of architecture in a different way: as one of several representations of a particular idea about housing and urbanism whose presence reaches well beyond the period 1972 to 2017. In this presentation it will be argued that the demolition of Robin Hood Gardens and the V&A’s recovery of a fragment of the building have safeguarded the project in a way the proposed listing could never have done. The bulldozing secured the project a place in the virtual realm: a realm of architectural visions and conceptions that differs from the physical, economical and social context of a built work. The argument is based on the understanding that representations form an important part of architectural heritage. Representations possess a particular power that is different from the presence of physical buildings but no less valuable as architectural “matter”. The detached, provisional and projective character of representations allows us to treat them not only as precisely articulated visions of an architect’s ideas but also as a flexible and transformable material that can inform and inspire future practices of architecture.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTangible – Intangible Heritage(s) : Design, social and cultural critiques on the past, the present and the future
EditorsMaria Alessandra Segantin
Number of pages6
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherUniversity of East London
Publication date2019
Publication statusPublished - 2019
EventTangible-Intangible Heritage(s): Design, Social and Cultural Critiques on the Past, the Present and the Future - University of East London / Amps, London, United Kingdom
Duration: 13 Jun 201815 Jun 2018


ConferenceTangible-Intangible Heritage(s)
LocationUniversity of East London / Amps
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address
SeriesAMPS Proceedings Series


  • heritage
  • brutalism
  • representations

Artistic research

  • No

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