Robin Hood Gardens: A Ruin in Reverse
Dr Christopher Turner and Dr Olivia Horsfall Turner
Arsenale, Sale d’Armi A
Robin Hood Gardens: A Ruin in Reverse
The Pavilion of Applied Arts will reflect upon the future of social housing. The team will use the case of the Robin Hood Gardens in London to address this question. This internationally recognized housing estate by Alison and Peter Smithson has already been presented at the Venice Biennale in 1976. At that time, they displayed a billboard-size photograph of the Robin Hood Gardens under construction and a bench based on one of the concrete columns that articulate the façade of the building. They wrote ‘A building under assembly is a ruin in reverse’ in the catalog. Unfortunately, in 2009, the estate failed to achieve listed status and was considered unfit for human habitation. It is now in the process of being demolished and 250 families are being rehoused. The V&A salvaged a three-storey section of each façade and the original interior fittings of two flats.
At the 2018 Architecture Biennale, three storeys of the façade will be reassembled on a scaffold. This structure will allow visitors to stand on an original section of a ‘street in the sky’, the elevated access deck designed to foster interaction between neighbors.
Inside the pavilion, you will be able to virtually walk through the interiors thanks to the Korean artist Do Ho Suh. With the latest technology in 3D-scanning and photogrammetry, the camera moves along the walkways and appears to cut through the building, depicting and revealing domestic interiors within the modular plan. The installation will be projected on a 13m-wide screen and presents a panoramic record of the architecture and interiors before they are torn down.
Finally, through archival photographs and specially recorded interviews, the exhibition looks at the vision and fate of the Robin Hood Gardens and asks what we can learn from its ruins.
Dr Christopher Turner studied Archaeology, Anthropology and Art History at Cambridge and has a PhD from the London Consortium, University of London. He set up the Central Cities Institute at the University of Westminster, an urban think-tank that investigated the inner city, and was a research scholar at Columbia University. He worked as an editor of Icon, the leading architecture and design publication, before he was Director of the London Design Biennale and Deputy Director of the London Design Festival. He joined the Victoria and Albert Museum in October 2017 as Keeper of Design, Architecture and Digital (DAD).
Dr Olivia Horsfall Turner is Senior Curator of Designs at the V&A, and the V&A’s Lead Curator for the V&A+RIBA Architecture Partnership. After studying at Cambridge, Yale and University College London, she worked as an Architectural Investigator at English Heritage and as an Historian with the Survey of London. She has lectured and published widely on a variety of subjects, has broadcast for the BBC on architectural topics, and has curated shows in the V&A+RIBA Architecture Display Gallery. At the V&A she looks after the national collection of design drawings, which documents the creative process in art, architecture and design from the fourteenth century to the present day.
“The V&A has a long-standing history of collecting large-scale architectural fragments, often salvaged from demolition sites. These include the sixteenth-century façade of Sir Paul Pindar’s house in Bishopsgate, demolished in 1890, and the eighteenth-century music room rescued from the 1938 demolition of Norfolk House in St James’s Square.
The case of Robin Hood Gardens is arresting because it embodied such a bold vision for housing provision yet less than fifty years after its completion it is being torn down. Out of the ruins of Robin Hood Gardens, we want to look again at the Smithson’s original ideals and ask how they can inform and inspire current thinking about social housing.”
Dr Christopher Turner and Dr Olivia Horsfall Turner, curators
The pavilion of Applied Arts is located in the Sale d’Armi in the Arsenale. The origins of the Sale d’Armi date back to about 1460, when they were used as a deposit and as ‘show room’ for the armaments of the Republic of Venice. Part of this building opened in 2015 after a thorough restoration which lasted 4 years. The entire renovation should be finished in 2019.
If you want to know more about the Architecture Biennale 2018 and the other national participations, you can read my post ‘What to expect from the Architecture Biennale 2018‘ or have a look at this overview page which links to all the articles related to the Biennale. If you want to be informed about new previews of national pavilions being added to the site, you can subscribe to The Venice Insider biweekly newsletter.
(Picture in banner: Robin Hood Gardens, completed 1972, designed by Alison and Peter Smithson © The Victoria and Albert Museum, London)
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