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Ruin in Reverse : Part of Robin Hood Gardens to be Displayed at Venice Biennale 2018

Robin Hood Gardens completed 1972 designed by Alison and Peter Smithson – Photo The Victoria and Albert Museum

The demolition of Robin Hood Gardens has been the subject of much recent debate in the architectural world, the housing estate in Poplar is considered an internationally significant example of Brutalist architecture. However the building was refused protection by being listing, and will be replaced by a £300m redevelopment of affordable and private housing.

Robin Hood Gardens completed 1972 designed by Alison and Peter Smithson – Photo The Victoria and Albert Museum

Robin Hood Gardens was designed by British architects Alison and Peter Smithson and completed in 1972, it was based on twenty years of research by the Smithson’s into social housing and intended to be a new model of urban organisation.

Whether the building ever achieved these lofty ideals is unlikely but the building has been a familiar landmark in Poplar for 50 years. When the demolition is complete, little will remain of the building. However, part of the building will be making a trip to Venice to take part in the La Biennale di Venezia for the International Architecture Exhibition. In the Pavilion of Applied Arts, the V&A will present Robin Hood Gardens: A Ruin In Reverse, centred around fragments of Robin Hood Gardens. Concrete fragments from the housing estate will be on display. Altogether the V&A salvaged a three-storey section of each façade and the original interior fittings of two flats.

 Robin Hood Gardens completed 1972 designed by Alison and Peter Smithson – Photo The Victoria and Albert Museum

In Venice, three storeys of the façade will be reassembled on a scaffold designed by ARUP, who engineered the original building The structure will allow visitors to stand on an original section of a ‘street in the sky’, the elevated access deck.  

There will also be a new work by Korean artist Do Ho Suh who recorded some of the building and flats before they were torn down. Through archival photographs and specially recorded interviews, the exhibition looks at the vision and fate of Robin Hood Gardens.

Ironically in 1976, the Smithson’s contributed to the Venice Biennale where they displayed a billboard-size photograph of Robin Hood Gardens with the slogan ‘A building under assembly is a ruin in reverse’.

Interiors circa 1970 by Peter Smithson-courtesy of the Smithson family collection.

In many ways, Robin Hood Gardens illustrates how many of the social housing projects from the 1960s and 1970s came to a sad end. They often had good intentions to foster community spirit but the designs were often impractical and buildings were often not maintained by local authorities. With many of these post war housing projects being now demolished or redeveloped, the question of what kind of social housing should be built is still a matter of some debate.

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Morgenster Tall Ship on the Thames

Walking near to Westferry Circus, I saw the unmistakable sails of a tall ship and hurried to see which ship it was. To my surprise it was the Morgenster which reminded me of one of my great experiences from last year.

Morgenster was one of the ships taking part in the Rendez-Vous 2017 Tall Ships Regatta and I was fortunate to be invited to take a trip on the Morgenster from Woolwich to Greenwich.

Whilst I have seen a lot of Tall Ships in West India Dock and at Greenwich and occasionally been on board to have a look around, actually sailing on a ship down the Thames was a wonderful experience.

There was something special about being under sail even in the safe confines of the Thames, before I get carried away it is worth mentioning that for the crew it is more hard work bringing down the sails and carrying out various duties. It did give me some insight into how much work would be involved sailing one of these ships across the Atlantic.

The Morgenster or  (Morning Star in Dutch) is a sail training ship based in the Netherlands. She was originally built, as a herring lugger under the name De Vrouw Maria, in 1919. In 1927, she was converted into a motor fishing vessel. She was renamed Morgenster in 1959 and continued to be used as a fishing vessel until 1970. After a period of use for sport fishing and a pirate radio station, she was converted back to a sailing vessel in 1983. She made her maiden voyage as a sail training ship in 2008, having been refitted as a brig.

She certainly looked a magnificent sight as she meandered her way along the Thames on her way to Tower Bridge.

Marienborgh Yacht in West India Dock

It has been a very quiet winter for visitors to West India Dock, no doubt due to the on-going building works around the dock.

However we do have an interesting visitor with the arrival of the Marienborgh. The boat is a two-mast schooner that dates back to 1912.

There have been long term plans for boat to be fitted out as a luxurious dining venue.  It was first proposed in 2012 but since then the boat has been to Holland and has been spotted in King George V dock in the Royal docks.

Little is known about the background of the boat or its plans but it has been put up for sale a number of times in the last few years.

A Spring Stroll to Island Gardens and Mudchute Park and Farm

Last week when it looked like Spring had finally arrived, I put on my walking shoes and wandered around Island Gardens and Mudchute Park and Farm. Arriving at Island Gardens it was with some surprise to see that the Calder Wharf development had started. The development has been the subject of some controversy due to its design which brings the property right up to the Island Gardens wall and dominates the dome where the foot tunnel is located. First impressions are not very good and the local community is still seeking answers to why the development has been allowed to go ahead without adequate consultation.  

Better news was a flag that denoted that Island Gardens had been selected to receive a Green Flag award which is a national quality standard for parks and green spaces.

Wandering around the gardens it was easy to why the award was given, spring flowers were in abundance and the blossom was on the trees.

One of the most unique features of the gardens is the view across to Greenwich, this famous view is still one of the great views of London and has remained largely unspoiled for centuries.

We are very fortunate on the Island that we have Island Gardens and Mudchute Park and Farm. Spring is a wonderful time to visit the farm with spring lambs running around the field. Local children stood captivated as the different breeds of sheep showed off their young lambs. The lambs began racing each other around the field till it was time for a drink.

The sheep were not the only attractions, the Alpaca were enjoying the sunshine as were the various horses and donkeys.

It is remarkable that in the middle of an urban scene that you can watch sheep in the field and the various animals enjoying the more rural location.

If you suffer from some the strains of urban life, why not take a wander to Island Gardens and Mudchute and enjoy the wonderful surroundings.

Celebrating St George’s Day

Photo Laureen Katiyo

Regular contributor Laureen Katiyo kindly sent some photographs of the celebrations from the Feast of St George event which took place in Trafalgar Square last weekend. Like most people, I tend to be quite ambivalent to the celebration of the patron saint of England but why is this?  In some ways we seem to be happier celebrating other countries festivals like St Patrick’s Day.

Photo Laureen Katiyo

To determine whether this is a more recent phenomenon, I decided to look back into the past through newspaper reports and found this apathy to St George’s Day has a long history.

In 1839, the following writer tries to build up the day.

 A man may be, in the fullest sense of the word a ‘citizen of the world,’ and still preserve that veneration for the important festivals of his native soil — of which, indeed, every Englishman should be proud, and with which must necessarily be associated many early and joyous reminiscences. We fervently hope that whatever dimness may this year have been cast upon the lustre of St George, will be dispelled by the halo which shall arise from the celebration of the 23d April, 1839.

Even the Victorians were neglectful as this report from 1885 describes.

It is a matter of known fact that of late years St. George’s day bas been neglected through the complete insouciance of the Englishmen. While the Scottish and Irish have stood forward and insisted on their Patron Saint’s Days being annually honoured the name of St. George has not been often heard.

A report from 1928 turns this apathy into a virtue, it is all because of our natural modesty.

An Englishman considers it is bad form to boast about his work, about this country, or about its achievements. Even on St. George’s Day, the festival of the nation’s patron saint, and the birthday of Shakespeare, the world’s greatest poet, the English people are very subdued, as a rule, in their celebrations.

Another problem is St George himself, he seems to have a mysterious past which had no obvious links with England, it is generally accepted that St. George was a soldier who was tortured and killed for his Christian faith in around AD 303. After this stories about his strength and courage soon spread throughout Europe. The best-known story about St. George is his fight with a dragon, it was believed that it was the 12th century Crusaders however who first invoked his name in battle.

Photo Laureen Katiyo

King Edward III made him the Patron Saint of England when he formed the Order of the Garter in 1350, and the cult of the Saint was increased by King Henry V, at the battle of Agincourt. Shakespeare famously included the rallying call by King Henry V with the famous phrase, ‘Cry God for Harry, England and St George’.

Perhaps one of the major issues is the tendency for English people to consider themselves as British first then English. It has been very common to many people in the past for people to say that they are British rather than English because they are part of Great Britain or United Kingdom.

Photo Laureen Katiyo

So why the renewed interest in St George and Englishness? Ironically it is possibly the greater independence of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland in recent times that has led England to reconsider its role and English people to find their own identity. The various events on St George’s Day is part of this movement, whether these events can overturn centuries of apathy is a different question.

Lady A Superyacht in West India Dock

After we have had a very quiet period in West India Dock, we welcome the arrival of the 55.17 metre superyacht, Lady A. The Jon Bannenberg designed yacht was launched in 1986, built-in Japan by Nishii Zosen-Sterling and named the Southern Cross and was originally owned by disgraced Australian millionaire Alan Bond.

It is widely believed the yacht was bought in 2015 by Lord Sugar but has recently been put up for sale for around £13 million pounds.

As usual in the secretive world of superyachts, it is difficult to find out who are the owners and why the yacht is visiting West India Dock.

The yacht had a major refit in 2015 and is considered one of the most distinctive yachts afloat. the yacht can accommodate 12 guests in a master stateroom, four doubles and one twin guest cabin. The sundeck design has a seated bar, Jacuzzi, and sun awnings with two private lounges at the foredeck.

Race Day : The London Marathon 2018 on the Isle of Dogs – 22nd April 2018

The Isle of Dogs is thrust into the national and international spotlight once a year with the arrival of the London Marathon. In the week before the race, new boardings appear on the roadside and metal barriers arrive to be placed along the route. 

On the morning of the race, volunteers and charities take their spots along the route in eager anticipation of yet another carnival of running. People were enticed outside with the wonderful warm weather and began to take their positions along the route . The spectators on the west of the Island have the benefit of watching the runners going down Westferry Road and returning via Marsh Wall before the runners head into Canary Wharf.

The elite wheelchair races are the first to start and finish and they raced around the Island at great speed, in an exciting finish Britain’s David Weir won his eighth London Marathon in the men’s wheelchair race.

Australia’s Madison de Rozario won her first-ever London Marathon to take victory in the women’s wheelchair race.

Kenyan Vivian Cheruiyot won her first London Marathon with Kenya’s Brigid Kosgei second, Ethiopia’s Tadelech Bekele third and Great Britain’s Lily Partridge finished a creditable eighth place.

The men’s race was another win for Kenya with Eliud Kipchoge , Ethiopa’s Tola Shura Kitata was second and Britain’s Mo Farah finished third in a new British record.

After the elite races, the crowds on the Island get bigger with family and friends of the runners of the mass race taking their places along the route, other spectators come out in large numbers to offer support to the runners who face their own particular challenges, it is the mix of serious runners, celebrities, fancy dress runners and fun runners make the marathon the great success it is. Many of the runners run for their favourite charity and since 1981, competitors in the race have raised nearly 60 million pounds for various charities.

Eventually the large mass of runners dwindle down to smaller groups and spectators begin to drift away, the noise and excitement of the big day is replaced by quietness with the occasional lorry appearing on the course to take down various structures and the cleaning department picking up the tons of litter.

Congratulations to all those who took part and all the volunteers who make the London Marathon, the special event  it  is.