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Barbican Centre

An exploration of the Barbican via the Highwalks, the history of the site, the original design and the ideas that inspired it. RIBA Award Winner 2007.


Chamberlin Powell & Bon/Allford Hall Monaghan Morris (refurb)



Silk Street EC2Y 8DS

Sat 9am-11pm/Sun 12noon-11pm. Sun tours at 12.30pm, 1.30pm, 2.30pm, 3.30pm by Barbican tour guides, pre-book ONLY for tours on 0207 638 8891. Meet at Advance Box Office Level G. Max 20 per tour.

Barbican, Bank

Moorgate, Liverpool Street

4, 243, 47, 78, 11

  • Bookshop at location
  • Children's activities
  • Partial disabled
  • Refreshments available
  • Toilets available

See architectural images, drawings and data in the AJ Buildings Library at http://www.ajbuildingslibrary.co.uk/projects/display/id/1225 BARBICAN CENTRE It’s clear that, whatever outsiders may think, residents like the Barbican: ‘The Barbican is an estate of 2,014 flats and houses, built round a lake and gardens and the Barbican Arts Centre. It is part of the bustling City of London _ we share our routes home with people going to concerts and plays at the Arts Centre. But it is also apart from the City _ it is built above the roads so, once inside, you are in a different world, away from traffic and hubbub’. The Barbican was designed as a mixed-use scheme for families and married couples, as well as single people. It was a development intended to reinvent a part of the City totally blitzed during World War II and stem a massive population decline which over 100 years had seen the population of the City fall from 100,000 to 5,000. And while Chamberlin Powell & Bon might have, as they said, intended ‘. . . a balanced population of a truly resident nature with loyalties and interest in the City, not to provide a large number of pieds-a-terre’, but there was almost as much social as architectural engineering in the final proposals of 1959, based upon the opinion of consultants to the City that ‘ . . . for reasons of management small flats should not for preference be situated in the same blocks as the large ones.’ As the resident quoted above suggests, ‘You may smell just a whiff of the class system in Goddard and Smith’s recommendation that small flats should not be in the same blocks as large ones. They probably took it for granted that stock brokers in five bedroom flats should not have to share lifts with their own junior employees’. And they had not counted on Margaret Thatcher coming to power in late 1979, promoting free markets and the council tenant’s ‘right to buy’. The outcome is the Barbican’s current status as a substantially up-market residential island. It is interesting to compare the plan with that of the area. The informing axes of the scheme come from the site’s history: the alignments of Milton Street, White Cross Street, Moor Lane, Silk Street and Fore Street. Extending this grid westward obliterates Jewin Street and Jewin Crescent (1805, originally residential and attributed to George Dance the Younger, who laid out many streets in this area) but the latter was reinvented further north as Frobisher Crescent (where the arts centre is located). In essence, the Barbican scheme is divided between a north and a south part along the east-west axis of the three towers. Beech Street runs through here, beneath the podium deck linking the two parts. The principal southern part locates the City of London School For Girls, St Giles Church and the lake feature at the centre of two sets of terraces _ one to the east, the other to the west, both starting off as ‘U’ shapes facing one another, then added to and complemented by Gilbert House _ the central block that crosses the lake. CPB’s intention (seeking historical validation) was outlined as follows: “The long terrace blocks are grouped in meandering U and Z shapes on plan, each enclosing, or otherwise defining, certain parts of the layout. . . The areas of the site partially enclosed by these long terraces are comparable in scale to some of the familiar London squares.” (CPB, Barbican Redevelopment report, April 1959) The southern edge _ where the Museum of London, Alban Gate, Monkwell Square, Barber Surgeons’ Hall, Ironmongers’ Hall and other commercial City buildings are located – is a transition zone to the City. 4% of the dwellings are one room flats; 40% have three rooms; 26% have two rooms; 22% have four rooms; and 8% have five rooms _ most of the larger flats being in the towers. These are provided in a mix of long blocks and three towers, all arranged around a central landscape and lake feature surrounded by a podium deck 6m above ground. Most of this was in place by 1956, when master-planning proposals amalgamated earlier proposals and, in the (Leslie) Martin-Mealand plan, it was proposed that both the residential quarter and the commercial edge along Route Eleven should both employ the concept of a raised pedestrian deck. This, however, was by no means the end of debate and revision. John Butlers site for a more detailed account). The northern edge, along Beech Street, now includes an exhibition and conference centre and abuts Chamberlin Powell and Bon’s Golden Lane scheme of 1952; in 1956, however, it was still zoned for commercial use.