Building on Stilts

“Their ideas are expressed in cyclopean reinforced concrete forms, massive far beyond utility (and indeed the flats were never meant to be cheap).”

The Buildings of England”, Nikolaus Pevsner and Simon Bradley

Above podium level, many of the terrace buildings of the Barbicann estate are carried on massive columns. The idea was to open up the space around buildings and create continuity between different parts of the layout. The desired effect was that people would always see a large vista around them, which would avoid any feeling of oppressive enclosure by large buildings.

The columns are 1.2 meters in diameter, supported on larger ‘bored pile’ foundations. These foundations were sunk into 18 meters of London clay, and then topped with 3 meters of ballast.

The concrete was poured in sections on site. In some columns you can see the rings indicating where one level of concrete was poured into a holding tube, set, and then a new load was poured on top. The rings must have been more noticeable originally. The columns would have looked roughly like bamboo. But the aesthetic effect that the Corporation and the architects then employed was to hammer the set concrete all over with pick axes. As tiny chunks were knocked out, this gave what they call a ‘pick hammered’ effect.