The acoustic wall that bordered the estate on two of its sides gave a false impression that it was closed off from its Poplar locale, when in fact one of the features residents most appreciated was the easy flow in and out of the apartments and the estate and the proximity to local amenities and transport. Unappealing though it was, the wall was a decisive response to the “destructive effect of cars – their obtrusiveness in places, their ability to get everywhere, their pollution.”
A “big road,” as the Smithsons expressed it so well, “is an overwhelming territorialising force in itself, absorbing all its margins into itself.” This was to be resisted by the acoustic wall. At ten-foot high and canted outward at the top, it deflected traffic noise as close to source as possible, after which the building was further separated by a row of trees, a thin stretch of grass, and a garage moat.
This is not to say that Robin Hood Gardens was a “quiet” estate. Dheraj Shamoo recalls some loud parties and neighbours yelling at them for their cricket games on the green: “We used to play cricket almost every weekend. We had some complaints, but that is how I met my closest friends.”
Socially negotiating the different problem of drugs on the estate, especially in the 1990s, was more fraught. Heroin had terribly damaging effects on some individuals and families. It is worth noting, though, that a number of residents remarked to us that users tended to keep to themselves. Rani Begum, for example: “I know there are people living here that do take drugs. But it has never bothered me and it’s never affected me. I do feel safe and I do love the flat I am living in and even the area I am living in. I’m quite happy because I know every place you go there is bad and good anyway.”
In any case, blaming drug problems on architecture and council estates, rather than on poverty and the lack of prospects and facilities for young people, is a highly suspect move. It always seems to favour not investment in working-class housing but estate demolition and working-class displacement, compounding the causes of what it claims to be solving.