Long multi-storey block of flats.
Robin Hood Gardens, London © Historic England Archive DP158299
Robin Hood Gardens, London © Historic England Archive DP158299

Robin Hood Gardens Estate

The Heritage Minister, Tracey Crouch, is minded to approve the Certificate of Immunity for Robin Hood Gardens, Tower Hamlets. A period of 28 days is now allowed for review before the certificate is issued.

Background information

A certificate of immunity from listing was issued for Robin Hood Gardens in 2009 by DCMS on the advice of Historic England (then English Heritage). Following a thorough assessment of the building, it was turned down for listing. DCMS was asked to review the decision soon after, but the original decision was upheld.

When the certificate expired in 2014, the London Borough of Tower Hamlets applied to Historic England for it to be renewed. We provided Tower Hamlets, the 20th Century Society and CABE with a consultation report as part of the COI process. Many of the points in the consultation response we received from the 20th Century Society were in reference to the original 2008 report and subsequent review material, and did not provide new information. A certificate of immunity is a legal guarantee that the building or buildings named in the certificate will not be considered for listing for five years.

Our advice

Emily Gee, Head of Designation at Historic England, said: “Any of the Smithson’s buildings deserve to be considered for listing, and a number are already listed. We have therefore given much thought to Robin Hood Gardens. We assessed the complex for listing in 2008 and our advice was subject to detailed scrutiny and review. No new information has come to light that would cause us to revise our assessment, so we stand by our view that Robin Hood Gardens does not meet the very high threshold for listing.

In recommending a building for listing, particularly one so recently built, we need to consider whether it stands up as one of the best examples of its type. We don’t think that Robin Hood Gardens does. It was not innovative in its design – by the time the building was completed in 1972 the ‘streets-in-the-air’ approach was at least 20 years old. The building has some interesting qualities, such as the landscape, but the architecture is bleak in many areas, particularly in communal spaces, and the status of Alison and Peter Smithson alone cannot override these drawbacks.

The complex does not equal the architectural achievement of other 20th century estates which have been listed such as the Barbican and Brunswick Centre in London, and Park Hill in Sheffield.

Listing is highly selective and decisions must be made objectively. While respecting the opinions of campaigners, after careful review of all the points received by the consultees, we recommended once again that Robin Hood Gardens does not make the grade."

Listed Buildings by Alison and Peter Smithson:

  • Smithdon School and Gymnasium, Hunstanton, Norfolk (1950-54) Listed Grade II*in 1993
  • The Economist group, City of Westminster (1960-64) Listed at Grade II* in 1988 and amended in 2013.
  • Garden Building at St. Hildas College, Oxford (1968-70) Listed at Grade II* in 1999
  • Sugden House, Watford, Herts (1956) Listed at Grade II in 2012
  • Upper Lawn Cottage with associated garden walls and raised patio, West Tisbury, Wiltshire (1961-62). Listed at Grade II in 2011

Read our listing selection guide for the modern house and housing

Watch our short film, made in 2009 when we were English Heritage, explaining our position on Robin Hood Gardens

Listed Post War Public Housing Estates

Here are some examples of 20th Century estates which have been listed:

Park Hill, Sheffield

Listed at Grade II* in 1998. Jack Lynn & Ivor Smith for Sheffield City Architects’ Dept, 1957-61. A vast slum-replacement scheme with architectural interest in the boldness of the concrete frame and planning interest as a sequence of inter-connected slab blocks. List entry no: 1246881

Brunswick Centre, Bloomsbury, Camden

Listed at Grade II in 2000. Patrick Hodgkinson, 1967-72. An early ‘megastructure’ with architectural boldness in its novel stepped terraces of flats over shops. List entry no: 1246230

Lillington Gardens, Pimlico, City of Westminster

Listed at Grade II* and II in 1998 and 2000. Darbourne and Darke, 1964-72. A humane complex in place-specific brick where an intricate arrangement of units is surrounded by successful landscaping. List entry no: 1246741, 1246743, 1246744, 1246746, 1271207 & 1271208.

Alexandra Road Estate, West Hampstead, Camden

Listed at Grade II* in 1993. Neave Brown of Camden Architects’ Department, 1972-8. The most formal and dramatic of the high-density, low-rise designs. List entry no: 1130403