© 2019 Ian A. Ryan

This Brutal House

February 2, 2016

I took a day trip to London today to visit two Brutalist housing estates; 1. The Barbican  & 2. Robin & Hood Gardens, Poplar. These two estates were chosen as the starting point for my final major project because of an article by Colin Wiles called "A tale of two brutalist housing estates: one thriving, one facing demolition” published on the Guardian website 13th January 2016. This article focused on the similarities and differences between the two housing estates. The premise of the article was why should two housing estates produced using the Le Corbusierian model made famous with his "Unite D'habitation" (Housing Unit) become two very different places.

 The Barbican estate has become one of the most desirable places to live in the capital with flats and mews houses selling for in excess of £2 million, whereas Robin Hood Gardens has become the focus of Tower Hamlets Council's regeneration plan to demolish the 214 council owned flats and replace them with up to 1575 new homes. 

 

The differences between what are effectively similar estates and how one has become a desirable place to live and the other, something the council wants to demolish interests me greatly. Ironically, Robin Hood Gardens appears to follow Le Corbusier's unite d'habitation design principles closer than the barbican did. Many people claim that people do not want to live inside estates that have people living on top of each other with dark narrow corridors and lack of green space but if this is true then how has Robin Hood gardens become so run down as it actually has more open space than the Barbican.

Here is a small selection of the photos I took today at Robin Hood Gardens. The photos that appealed to me most are the ones that show structural elements of the construction. Particularly the grid like arrangements of the flats all on top and next to each other. I also like the mass of muted colours and grey tones especially in the photo above. This is somewhat juxtaposed by the grassy area at the front that is in full sunlight which exaggerates the cold imposing nature of the flats behind.

  I then moved over to the Barbican to take some photos and hopefully some sketches. Here a small selection of the photos I took. The main obvious structures of the Barbican do not particularly appeal to me as they are seen so often. I am more interested in the small details of the hidden corners and "non places" that are located in the corners of buildings. Perhaps this is because they are the places other people tend to ignore. I am also attracted to the little areas that have large geometric grey forms and tiny splashes of solid coloured areas. 

 

 The weather had warmed up slightly by this point so I decided to try to do a bit of sketching. By this point I was already very cold and not feeling particularly like sketching but I thought I would force myself to make some as they may be a stepping stone to a greater piece of work. 

 

 To be honest I felt pretty uninspired when making these sketches but I worked through that as I have learned that a great deal of producing decent work is learning to ignore the critical part of your brain that says it is rubbish, pointless, too simple etc... These sort of more conscious criticisms are best made a day or two after the sketches have been made as then enough distance has passed since creation to enable more accurate criticism. Looking back at these a few hours later I feel that some are pretty much worthless and are just warm up exercises. A few are also a little bit too much like the sketches I made in response to the south bank centre last semester. The ones here that have worked best were the ones that involved the curves which came from observations of the three tower like structures. I thought these may be able to be progressed to produce further work. 

 

These particular sketches remind me very much of the work of American abstract painter Ruth Root whose work is pictured below. I think that I could work these sketches further and devise a colour palette that could be used to create some work that would be very much like that of Ruth and the work I created last semester for the downstairs gallery. At this stage I am a bit concerned this would be a step back to what I was doing last semester and that I should be forging forward and trying to produce new work whilst I am studying. I feel it may be too easy for me to simply make a small series of these at the moment and I could actually revisit this after my degree. Either way, its early days yet and I have plenty of time to search for something different and conceivably I could come back to this if I do not get better, more original ideas soon.

 Ruth Root "untitled" 2007-2008

 

Since I made some on site sketches at the Barbican I think it would be a good exercise for me to use the photos taken from The Robin Hood estate as I would not normally work from photos. This could produce an unexpected outcome for me as I would normally prefer to use on site sketches to produce work. My first fear is that the work I may produce could be too figurative and I really want an outcome that is nearer abstraction than figuration. Next time I am at college I will respond to these photos with a series of sketches and see what happens.

 

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