The 1959 Grand Plan

“The intention underlying our design is to create a coherent residential precinct in which people can live both conveniently and with pleasure. Despite its high density the layout is spacious: the buildings and the space between them are composed in such a way as to create a clear sense of order without monotony. Uninterrupted by road traffic (which is kept separate from pedestrian circulation through and about the neighbourhood) a quiet precinct will be created in which people will be able to move about freely enjoying constantly changing perspectives or terraces, lawns, trees and flowers seen against the background or the new buildings or reflected in the ornamental lake.”

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

sketchbarbican

Artist’s impression of how the Barbican would look

That is the essence of the grand plan for the 38 acres of the Barbican site, which the architects described as having “the appearance of a desert, laid waste during the war”. The plan was distilled by the architects and the City Corporation from a decade of proposals and draft schemes.

I am calling it a ‘grand plan’ because it was never a matter of merely filling 38 acres with the highest possible concentration of lettable space. Both the architects and the City Corporation were quite consciously attempting to create something wonderful. You can sense that in the mildly evangelical tone of the quotation above.

Their initial designs had also played heavily on the association of “barbican” with a walled fortification and designs had included moats, turrets and arrow slits. As plans progressed, these references were toned down, but you can still see distinct arrow slits in the walls opposite Barbican Station. The moat motif remains in the water lapping Brandon Mews and behind Wallside.

Chamberlin, Powell and Bon’s scheme certainly delighted Nicolas Pevsner, who wrote that the plans for the Barbican area: “give us the rhythm of road and precinct, of low and high, and the punctuation by towers which visually the City needs – and not only visually, but to satisfy all the senses of those who spend most of their lives in the City”.