La Biennale di Venezia with the Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Dr Christopher Turner and Dr Olivia Horsfall Turner
the design kollektiv
Installation of Robin Hood Gardens Fragment:
Do Ho Suh
Realised by: La Biennale di Venezia
Venue: Sale d’Armi A, Arsenale
For the third year of the V&A’s collaboration with La Biennale di Venezia, we are transporting to Venice for the 16th International Architecture Exhibition a section of Robin Hood Gardens, the housing estate in East London by Alison and Peter Smithson completed in 1972.
The building is, controversially, being demolished to make way for a £300m redevelopment scheme and the V&A has salvaged a large fragment of this internationally recognised example of New Brutalism. It will take its place alongside other large-scale architectural elements in the V&A collection, including 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.
In Venice, the pre-cast concrete elements of Robin Hood Gardens will be reconstructed on a scaffold, designed by ARUP – who engineered the original building – with muf architecture/art – who first proposed the Museum’s acquisition of the fragment – that will allow visitors to walk along a ‘street in the sky’.
The V&A has also commissioned a new work by Korean artist Do Ho Suh, whose practice centres on capturing memories and questioning the meaning of home. His monumental film/animation installation provides an exploration of Robin Hood Gardens under demolition less than fifty years after the Smithson's utopian vision was completed. Using the latest technology in 3D scanning and photogrammetry and projected on a 13m-wide screen, the camera moves along the walkways and appears to cut through the building, depicting and revealing individual lives through domestic interiors within the modular plan. Do Ho Suh’s installation will respond to the indistinct boundaries between psychic interior and objective exterior, reflecting on these homes and their function within a physical structure that is about to disappear.
The estate is just one of scores of post-war housing projects that are currently earmarked for redevelopment. Critics argue that regeneration is destroying existing communities and doing nothing to ease the housing crisis that is gripping metropolitan centres. Defenders point to the provision of affordable housing within these schemes and to the improvement of living conditions. The V&A actively encourages public debate around questions of architecture and urbanism; at the 16th International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia we will use the lessons of Robin Hood Gardens to ask the urgent questions that face us all about the future of social housing.
Tristram Hunt, Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London