Brutalism as Found
Housing, Form, and Crisis at Robin Hood Gardens
272 pp., 6 x 9 in, 30 b&w illus.
- Published: December 27, 2022
- Publisher: Goldsmiths Press
A critical appropriation of Brutalism in the crisis conditions of today.
The Robin Hood Gardens public-housing estate in East London, completed in 1972, was designed by Alison and Peter Smithson as an ethical and aesthetic encounter with the flux and crises of the social world. Now demolished by the forces of speculative development, this Brutalist estate has been the subject of much dispute. But the clichéd terms of debate—a “concrete monstrosity” or a “modernist masterpiece”—have marginalized the estate's residents and obscured its architectural originality. Recovering the social in the architectural, this book centers the estate's lived experience of a multiracial working class, not to displace the architecture's sensory qualities of matter and form, but to radicalize them for our present.
Immersed in the materials, atmospheres, social forms and afterlives of this experimental estate, Robin Hood Gardens is reconstructed here as a socio-architectural expression of our times out of joint.
Attuned to the voices of its residents, sensitive to the sensual form of its buildings and their site, attentive to the politics of its existence and demise, Nick Thoburn gives us an account of Robin Hood Gardens as awkward and enlivened class architecture. This is Brutalism rescued from its aestheticizing adherents as much as from its adversaries. It resuscitates Brutalism as social housing, and it does so brilliantly. I can't think of a more necessary book.
Ben Highmore, Professor of Cultural Studies, University of Sussex
Brutalism as Found is an incisive analysis of Robin Hood Gardens that sees Brutalism as the Smithsons wanted it to be seen: not as a style, but as a concrete, landscaped form of politics. The book helps us recapture the original impulse behind Brutalist architecture as well as deconstruct its stigmatization and fetishism. In this respect, it speaks both to architectural history and to housing politics today, in London and beyond.
David Madden, Associate Professor in Sociology, London School of Economics