Verdict

“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

In much of this I think they have been very successful. Most people who originally rented their flats liked them enough to buy them. The vast majority are now privately owned. Only a few rented flats remain.

For many years the Barbican estate remained (and for all I know may still remains) the largest complex in the world to have been built by one firm of architects. At 43 storeys, the high apartment blocks were the tallest in Europe when they were built. The Barbican Centre has the largest flat roof in Europe.

The buildings cover twenty acres. The Barbican Centre is on ten levels, the lowest being seventeen feet below sea level (although it feels nearer the ocean floor if you have ever had to take the steps down to the cinema).

In one area, the architects’ hopes were not realized. Their plans assumed an array of small shops on podium level under Willoughby House and in the crescent below Frobisher Crescent. There was also to be a restaurant at the base of Lauderdale Tower and they expected the residents to eat al fresco in Lauderdale Place in the Summer. (They would have to have nailed down the napkins.) As it is, the would-be shops below Frobisher Crescent are now offices for the Art Centre, and there are only two shop in the forecourt of Lauderdale Tower. It was also the architects’ prediction that: “The Barbican will need up to 5 public houses.” There are none left, since Crowders Well became a restaurant.

I give the final word to a recent book on London:

“At the end of the century only the Barbican, its first plans published in 1956 and built between 1959 and 1979, still impressed by the self-confidence of its vision”.

London in the 20th Century, Sherrie White.

I couldn’t agree more.