“There appears to be a growing interest in better – and greater variety – of cooking which, together with the request for up-to-date equipment and the tendency to entertain without the help of servants, greatly influenced the design of the kitchens in this new residential neighbourhood.

Bathrooms and particularly in this estate kitchens are in use during only a short part of the day (much of which is, in any case, after dark) so that it is no great drawback for these rooms to depend on artificial light. They will all be equipped with a forced extract ventilating system which is more efficient than normal window ventilation.”

Chamberlin, Powell & Bon, Barbican Redevelopment, April 1959

flat 1b kitchen

When is a kitchen not a kitchen?

Chamberlin Powell & Bon, the architects, decided that kitchens should be placed at the rear of the flats (and be window-less) so that the available window space would be reserved for the living area and bedrooms. This had been the settled arrangement since the grand plan was drawn up in 1959; the whole layout of flats depended on it.

In 1963 this ran into a technical problem. The London County Council had recently passed bye-laws requiring all kitchens to have windows or equivalent ventilation. Many of the Barbican kitchens did not have ventilation. A deal was struck. What had previously been called kitchens, were instead renamed as ‘cooking areas’ and part of the living room, for the purpose of the regulations, and so they were approved by the London County Council.

Yacht design

Chamberlin Powell & Bon, the architects, wanted to make the design of the kitchens as efficient and space-saving as possible. They figured that the one place where space for a kitchen was always at a premium was on board a boat, so to solve the problem, they brought in Brooke Marine, a firm of yacht designers. A full-size mock-up of a kitchen was erected by the Gas Council, Watson House Research Centre, and was tested by going through the motions of preparing several different kinds of meals.

Other features

In most flats a small thermostatically-controlled electric water heater supplies the kitchen sink. (Studio flats don’t have a separate kitchen boiler). The heaters hold 68 or 136 litres of water and have a 3kW heating element. The thermostat is set to limit the water temperature to approximately 140°F (62°C) but this can be varied. When the supply runs cold, it takes 20 minutes to heat up again.

Apparently, it is normal for the kitchen hot water tap to drip for a short time after use. This is due to the plumbing method used and does not indicate that the tap needs a new washer. (Likely story!)

Fluorescent lights

Some original kitchens have 8 foot fluorescent tubes above the work tops. These are apparently very difficult to obtain now. Any replacement needs to be a 125 watt tube – a 100 watt tube won’t work. The Barbican Estate Office suggest getting an electrician to fit two 4-foot T8 x 36 watt tubes with new water proof holders. (I don’t quite see how a 125 watt tube can be replaced by a 36 watt tube, so I suggest you double-check this before proceeding.)