Flat design in the Barbican Estate

“In all cases, however, the large living rooms are planned in the corners of the towers so that – irrespective of the placing of these on site – each living room has a dual outlook which ensures the entry of sunlight during a large part of the day. In order that living rooms, dining rooms and bedrooms should have the benefit of the maximum external wall area, kitchens and bathrooms are concentrated in the centre of these blocks; these service rooms are ventilated by extract ducts which run up the core of the building. This concentration of drainage and service ducts in the centre of the blocks is both practical and economic.”

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


Each flat takes up one corner and most of one side of a tower floor. There are three flats per floor. The living room was deliberately placed in the corner of the tower so that it would have windows looking out of two sides, giving it maximum sunshine.

The decision was made that people would willingly sacrifice daylight for their kitchens and bathrooms, because most of the times when they would be using them, it would be dark outside. So, the living rooms and bedrooms monopolise the window sides of the flats and the kitchens, bathrooms, shower rooms, and toilets are concentrated on the inner side of the flat.

The service conduits are also most conveniently grouped together in the centre of the building. The extraction ducts for ventilation and the services ran up the central core of the building. There is a special arrangement for the soil stacks, as Chamberlin Powell and Bon explained in their 1959 report to the City Corporation.

“In the tower blocks, as well as air-tight expansion joints, it would be necessary for the main stacks to change direction at every tenth floor in order to reduce the velocity of flow and to avoid excessive plus and minus pressures in the main stacks.”

Chamberlin Powell and Bon had innovative ideas for arranging deliveries to tower flats.

“Each lift is designed with a secondary small panel door which provides direct access between the lift and a tenant’s service cupboard situated within the flat to which each lift is adjacent. This is designed to simplify the problem of trade deliveries to the flats in these towers without the expense incurred in providing separate service lifts; in this way the daily milk, the morning newspaper and post can be delivered directly from the lifts to the individual flats without the milkman or the postman having to get out of the lift, thus saving time and wear on passenger door mechanism.”

The external cantilevered balconies (one of the most recognisable features of the Barbican Estate from a distance) were a crucial part of the flats’ design. They run right round the towers at each floor level, passing between the inner and outer vertical columns of the external ‘split pier’ framing. The balconies have thick upswept concrete balustrades. These were developed by Ove Arup and Partners, the consultant engineers on the development project, in consultation with the architects.

The intention – which they admirably fulfil – was to provide a substantial visual and structural element between the window sill and the outer edge of the building, to give people a feeling of protection and safety, and to minimise the ‘cliff hanging’ feeling often experienced by other tower block residents.

The overhanging upstairs balcony also protects the downstairs flat against wind and rain, so windows can be opened for ventilation in most weather conditions. They also provide an escape route in case of fire, leading directly to the external staircase. Stairs link the balconies to the internal access lobby and provide a direct route of escape from all upper levels of the building to ground level.