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Brutalism, Robin Hood Gardens, and Council Housing ‘As Found’

Saturday, 1 June 2019 from 14:00 to 16:00 (BST)

Brutalism, Robin Hood Gardens, and Council Housing ‘As...

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General Admission 2d 15h 12m Free  

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Talks by Ben Highmore, Ana Vilenica, and Nick Thoburn, part of the exhibition Lived Brutalism: Portraits at Robin Hood Gardens

Free entry, but booking is essential

Brutalist architecture drew its ‘rough poetry’ from the confusion of materials and social relations it found at hand. For Alison and Peter Smithson, the architects of Robin Hood Gardens, Brutalism was a provisional, critical, and ethical response to architecture’s fraught social conditions, as built form faced up to the world ‘as found’.

In the current revival of interest in Brutalism, however, architecture’s social conditions risk being pushed aside by celebration of aesthetic form alone, celebration that feeds the social cleansing of Brutalist estates like Balfron Tower and Park Hill, and the transfer of Robin Hood Gardens from living social housing into a fragment of welfare-state heritage.

Taking a different course, this afternoon of talks seeks to renew the rough edges of Brutalism, in its history and its present; to tease out the class architecture of Robin Hood Gardens; and to appraise the place of art economies in the crisis of council housing, where, in the Smithsons’ still vital diagnosis, ‘the key problem is that of council house’.

About the speakers:

Ben Highmore is Professor of Cultural Studies at the University of Sussex and author, among numerous books, of The Art of Brutalism: Rescuing Hope from Catastrophe in 1950s Britain (2017) and The Great Indoors: At Home in the Modern British House (2014).

Ana Vilenica is urban researcher, art theoretician and housing organiser. She co-edited books On the Ruins of Creative City (2013) and Art and Housing Struggles: Between Art and Political Organising (forthcoming). She is a member of the Radical Housing Journal collective.

Nick Thoburn is Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Manchester. Author of Anti-Book: On the Art and Politics of Radical Publishing (2016) and Deleuze, Marx and Politics (2003), he is co-curator of the Lived Brutalism exhibition and is writing a book about Robin Hood Gardens. His article about the estate is available here.


About the exhibition:

Lived Brutalism: Portraits at Robin Hood GardensPhotographs by Kois Miah

Four Corners Gallery. 121 Roman Road, London E2 0QN

22 May – 8 June 2019. Mon – Sat: 10.00-6.00. Admission free

A photography exhibition recording the lives of residents at Robin Hood Gardens in the estate’s last years before demolition. This ‘streets in the sky’ housing scheme has been celebrated as a masterpiece of concrete modernism and reviled as a ‘concrete monstrosity’, but in neither account do residents feature as more than bit players to someone else’s story. Against these representations, and the social-cleansing agenda that they serve, Kois Miah’s images chronicle the lives, emotions, and routines that animate this extraordinary council estate by ‘New Brutalist’ architects Alison and Peter Smithson.

In these photographs, people and place, architecture and home are interlaced, as the concrete forms and charged voids of Robin Hood Gardens project a vitality at the edge of demolition. The portraits bear not melancholia for an outmoded social experiment, as council estates are too often portrayed today, but a vibrant community and architecture cut short by the destruction of regeneration.

The exhibition is part of a research collaboration with Nick Thoburn, sociologist at the University of Manchester, whose interviews with residents and writing about the estate accompany the portraits.

Do you have questions about Brutalism, Robin Hood Gardens, and Council Housing ‘As Found’? Contact the organiser

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When & Where

Four Corners Gallery
121 Roman Road
Bethnal Green
E2 0QN London
United Kingdom

Saturday, 1 June 2019 from 14:00 to 16:00 (BST)

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