Shops

“North of this sunken square is a semi-circle of shops below the crescent-shaped block of flats approached by steps in the form of an amphitheatre.”

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

Barbican was designed and built with its own shopping mall. You may walk along the crescent-shaped covered walkway under Frobisher Crescent to get from one side of the Barbican to the other, but you won’t see any shops. This underground pedestrian way was intended to be lined with shops full of bustling Barbican residents elbowing each other aside to get the best sales bargains. The only trouble was that no one wanted the shops. The space is now offices for the Barbican Arts Centre and workshops for the Barbican Estate Office. At the time of writing, there is just one shop for residents, next to Lauderdale Tower.

There is a large music shop in the side of Cromwell Tower facing out into Silk Street, which presumably survives on trade from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

Round the other, unvisited side of Lauderdale Tower is “Cissors Palace”. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but hairdressers almost uniquely among retailers seem to think an appalling pun is the only way to market their business. You don’t see restaurants called “Meal On The Floss”, or at least I hope not. “Scissors Palace” would have been bearable. But “‘Cissors” was pretty crass. ) Is there a crying and unfulfilled need for other shops? I rather doubt it. Crowder’s Well and the absurdly named Xanxos (probably owned by the guy who thought up Cissors) were drinking establishments which dried up from lack of Barbican trade.

Most shops would probably suffer the same fate, because residents tend to go outside for their shopping and eating, and non-residents don’t venture in unless they’re on their way to the Barbican Centre for a concert. In fact, probably the only establishments which work in the Barbican are those which serve the visiting public in the Barbican Centre.