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V&A rescues section of Brutalist council estate on demolition list

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The Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London has made an unusual acquisition – a section of a former council estate that’s set to be demolished.

The piece of the building that the museum has acquired consists of a three-storey maisonette flat, its exterior walkway and sections of concrete stairway, which was part of Robin Hood Gardens in Poplar, East London. It’s being taken apart and will be delivered to a V&A storage facility before the rest of the estate is razed.

The council estate was designed by architects Alison and Peter Smithson in the early 1970s and has been the topic of great debate ever since. With Robin Hood Gardens representing Brutalist architecture by the duo among the first to adopt the very word 'brutalism', the social housing development has historic and artistic importance.

In keeping with other examples of Brutalist architecture, it has divided opinion, with the late architect Zaha Hadid once saying it was a favourite building project of hers, while a majority of its residents supported its demolition and regeneration – a proposal first tabled in 2008. A campaign waged for several years to save Robin Hood Gardens, but an application to award the estate listed status was rejected and demolition was ultimately approved in 2015.

“This section of Robin Hood Gardens is an important piece of Brutalism, worth preserving for future generations," said Christopher Turner, keeper of the V&A’s design, architecture and digital department. "It's also an object that will stimulate debate around architecture and urbanism today. It raises important questions about the history and future of housing in Britain, and what we want from our cities.”

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The Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London has made an unusual acquisition – a section of a former council estate that’s set to be demolished.
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Robin Hood Gardens, completed 1972, designed by Alison and Peter Smithson / The Victoria and Albert Museum, London / The Victoria and Albert Museum

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