A resident of the Erno Goldfinger designed Brownfield Estate in Poplar, walking past its vast Balfron Tower, said, loud enough for everyone to hear; 'fucking hell, that's a long queue for the intercom'.
Such is Open House, London's annual event where suddenly, for one weekend, it becomes an open city, welcoming all and sundry to queue for a very long time for admittance to everything from centres of plutocracy to 60s council estates. Except it doesn't quite work like that. Leaving aside a truly disturbing bit of opportunist Speerism from Anschutz Entertainment Group
at the Dome (which really was as terrifying as this sounds
), my open house was spent in the depths of the East End, in the truly inexplicable landscape that is Poplar.
Here, sandwiched between huge postmodernist confections, the sub-Blade Runner metropolis in the Isle of Dogs and the autogeddon of the Blackwall tunnel, from which Terry Farrell's ventilation shafts poke out as if they were in Chandigarh
, are two of the most lumberingly powerful remnants of the municipal socialism once called 'Poplarism'
- two 1960s estates, one by Alison and Peter Smithson, the other by Erno Goldfinger.
And the later of these- the Smithsons
' Robin Hood Gardens- seems in much better shape than a year ago, a visit marked by the sight of burnt out mattresses and no people whatsoever. Thanks to the infinite generosity of the arts council, for one weekend the streets in the sky held a street market, with bingo and bombay mix; sound art installations play in the (working!) lifts, and unmistakeably bourgeois folk are taken round the flat of an elderly Geordie woman, admiring the awesomely kitsch internal furnishings as much as the Smithsons' protected kitchen appliances.
Our guide mutters that the 85% Bangladeshi estate wasn't too
keen initially on them poking around, but other than the 'SHABZ IS GAY' graffiti everywhere, there doesn't seem to be that much hostility or ennui in this famously troubled estate. One wonders though how many of those of us admiring the concrete will be those who, when Tower Hamlets finally sell up, will force the residents out to Barking. Of course, as the very informative arts council girl points out, the space standards and facilities here are far more generous than those in the newbuild gated developments like the mini-Dubai on East India Dock...