The mix of flats

“The intention has been to encourage 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.”

“Messrs Goddard and Smith have given their opinion that for reasons of management small flats should not for preference be situated in the same blocks as the large ones.”

Chamberlin, Powell & Bon, Architects “Barbican Redevelopment” April 1959

The Barbican estate was built to let. So who did the Corporation expect to let to? According to the Corporation’s Housing Manager at the time the largest number of enquiries about flats in the proposed estate were from: “single people, many of them in relatively junior positions in City firms”.

The City Corporation consulted Goddard and Smith, a leading firm of surveyors, to advise on the prospects for letting flats before the City committed itself as to what proportions of what sizes of flats they would build in the new estate. Goddard and Smith advised that smaller flats would be in the greatest demand.

But the choice of flat sizes was not decided on the basis of demand alone. Chamberlin Powell and Bon explained it in their 1959 report:

“The intention has been to encourage 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’. Consequently, we have included a good proportion of the larger flats in conformity with the recommendation of the Barbican Committee.”

So although research showed that the greatest potential demand was from junior City workers, this is the actual split of property sizes:

  • 4% of the 2,014 dwellings built are one-room ‘studio’ flats.
  • 40% of the flats built have three rooms
  • 26% have two rooms
  • 22% have four rooms
  • 8% have five rooms.

(Bathrooms, kitchens and toilets are not included in the room count.)

So, the next issue was how to apportion the different types of flats around the estate. Again let me quote from Chamberlin Powell and Bon’s 1959 report.

“To encourage a balanced resident population, a good proportion of the flats are a family type, but provision is also made for married couples and single people. Part of the former and all the latter are accommodated in the area north of Barbican. This grouping together of the smaller flats arises from two considerations.

Firstly, Mrs Goddard and Smith have given their opinion that for reasons of management small flats should not the preference be situated in the same blocks as the large ones.

Secondly, we have in mind that a proportion of the tenants of the smaller flats will be younger than the average for the development and therefore only able to afford lower rents. Since the area is most remote from the centre of the City and borders the Bunhill Fields area of local authority housing, the rents here might be expected to be a little lower than in the area south and therefore appropriate for the siting of small flats.”

There is not much wrong with the analysis that rents should be slightly lower in the north than in the south and therefore it would make sense to build there the smaller flats so that young people could afford them.

But 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 stockbrokers in five-room flats should not have to share lifts with their clerks.