Creating Space with Columns

“The raising of some of the terrace blocks on columns – allowing space to flow, as it were, beneath these buildings – is a device employed to express continuity between different parts of the layout and to avoid what might otherwise be, in a high density scheme of development, blunt and oppressive enclosure by buildings forbidding in scale.”

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

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The use of pillars to raise many of the buildings above ground level and to allow pedestrians to walk beneath, was a deliberate attempt to create a sense of flow and continuity between the spaces enclosed by the buildings.

These pillars are very satisfyingly thick and solid. They remind me of the pillars you find in Norman cathedrals, like Durham Cathedral, as opposed to the more elegant Greek-style columns of buildings in Kensington and Chelsea. There is something very pleasing about Norman columns.

Chamberlin Powell & Bon were influenced by Le Corbusier, who was the inspiration for the Brutalist movement in architecture in the 1950s onwards.

The movement got its name from ‘béton brut’, the French for ‘raw concrete’, which was the term Le Corbusier used for his favourite material. But ‘brutalism’, with its additional overtones in the English language, seems very appropriate to the stonking great columns of pitted concrete which hold up our estate.

Brutalism did in fact encourage the use of large quantities of poured concrete, which would then be left in a rough state, or left showing the marks of the wooden planks which formed the initial mould. The architects’ original plan was that the columns should be smooth and white, using marble chips. The City Corporation proved to be more modern than the architects in this matter, although the brutalism was in fact on the part of the accountants who cut the budget for materials. This left the architects to solve the artistic problem by ‘pick hammering’ the concrete to give the distinctive appearance of our mighty columns.