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LETTER : It may be ugly, but it's part of our national heritage

From Ms Rosalind Gill

Sir: While working as a housing visitor for Tower Hamlets Council, in the early Eighties, I had the dubious pleasure of visiting flats in both Keeling House and Robin Hood Gardens to assess the tenants' housing needs. The overwhelmingly consistent message then, and over the subsequent 15 years of my housing career, is that people want to live in houses with gardens.

Surely the best criterion by which to judge the merits of a building is: does it adequately serve the purpose for which it was built? Clearly, in the case of Robin Hood Gardens, the resounding answer by its occupants would be "no!".

The Victorian slums were reviled not for their poor architectural merit, but because they lacked basic sanitary amenities. The basic design of the two-storey terraced house has endured and continues to be an acceptable model. These are spurious grounds, therefore, to lead us to believe that in a couple of generations buildings like Robin Hood Gardens will come to be appreciated.

For the benefit of future generations, Peter Smithson [co-architect of Robin Hood Gardens] believes, the building should remain untouched. That is cold comfort for its current occupants, most of whom I suspect are not able to exercise their choice to live elsewhere. When he says it is "frightfully hard" to make changes to a building like this, I suspect he is referring to the aesthetic profile of the design, rather than relatively simple improvements such as a concierge system, which might just make a positive difference to the lives of the tenants.

I am dismayed that architects like Smithson do not seem to have learnt the all too obvious lessons from their mistakes. List Robin Hood Gardens? Torching it might be more appropriate!


Rosalind Gill

London, SE9

2 October