1956 Scheme for the Barbican Estate

With this plan the broad outlines of the present vast and powerful 35 acre (14 hectare) development were already visible.”

“The Buildings of England”, Nikolaus Pevsner and Simon Bradley

Since Chamberlin Powell and Bon had already produced their 1955 report on a scheme for development of the South Barbican area, a housing estate of some sort had become the front-runner for potential development of the Barbican area. The Special Committee instructed Chamberlin, Powell and Bon to produce a further report on what could be done there. On 31 May 1956 Chamberlin Powell and Bon produced their report, which was accompanied by a large scale model.

Changes in the terms of reference

Before reading this you need to be familiar with the 1955 Scheme of which the 1956 Scheme was an elaboration. But you should note some very important changes. 

The terms of reference of the 1956 report were

  • to include the land between Beach Street and the Golden Lane estate, which had not been part of the 1955 scheme. (So this report covered the 10.13 acres (30 ha) north of Beach Street as well as the 25 acre (10 ha) site south of Beach Street.)
  • to consider the possibility of locating the City of London School (for boys) and the City of London School for girls within the site, not just the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. (This was to force a change in the architects’ working assumptions.)

The 1956 report uses Roman numerals for all the buildings. But where a proposed building is more or less where a block is today, I use the familiar name. But please understand that they are not necessarily identical to what we have today; it’s just a way of letting you see in your mind’s eye where the building was intended to be.

The underlying idea

The architects stated that it was necessary to satisfy three different requirements at the same time – the provision of high density housing, schools and a generous open space.  This was how they proposed that it should be achieved (with some help from ‘The Arabian Nights’).

“The idea underlying the accompanying design is, simply put, to turn the existing desert into a garden surrounded by flats and containing the schools. The layout is spacious; the buildings on the ground between them are composed to create a clear and coherent sense of order without monotony. Unhindered by traffic, which would be excluded from the site, an oasis would be formed, dedicated to pedestrians who, moving about the new development, would be faced with constantly changing perspectives of terraces, lawns, trees and flowers framed by the new buildings or reflected in the ornamental waters.”


Chamberlin Powell and Bon proposed three 30-storey towers (called buildings VI, VII, and VIII) roughly where Lauderdale, Shakespeare and Cromwell Towers respectively are today.  They were to be “three slim towers”, but they were square in shape, not polygonal like the towers which were eventually built. The architectural idea behind these towers was that they would complete the series of vertical elements which would surround the central part of their scheme- – the other vertical elements being the “half a dozen commercial blocks similar to each other in form and 200 feet high, which are proposed flanking route 11 [London Wall].” (These were the commercial towers proposed by the Martin-Mealand plan, which applied to the area south of the Barbican and including London Wall.)

Chamberlin Powell and Bon also proposed two additional, shorter, towers only 16-storeys high in the North Barbican to form a family with Great Arthur House, the 16-storey block in the Golden Lane Estate. These were not built.

Terrace blocks

The main change to the residential layout from the 1955 scheme was that the idea of a large network of interconnected low courtyards was abandoned, and there was now introduced the idea of a number of eight-storey terraces blocks. This new arrangement of course remained the basis of design for the residential development right through to completion.

Chamberlin Powell and Bon proposed three lots of linked terrace blocks.

  • Terraces in the north. The architects proposed three linked terraces, grouped into a U-shape  in the area next to Goswell Road. These were to occupy the same place in the estate where we now have John Trundle Court, Bunyan Court and Bryer Court. But in the 1956 scheme there would be nothing in the Bryer Court position (because that was to be taken up by one of the proposed short towers). Instead the linked group would have been rotated 90 degrees counterclockwise, so that the proto-John Trundle Court would have bordered the tiled expanse from the tube station and  Ben Jonson House. These blocks would have been only four-storeys high.
  • Terraces in the east. There was to be a larger set of linked terraces to the east, roughly in the positions of Speed House, Willoughby House and Andrewes House. with a final half-side roughly in the position of Gilbert House, but with a paved  forecourt and garden on either side, not a lake. The heights of these blocks would have varied. ‘Speed House’ would have had six storeys, ‘Willoughby House’ seven storeys, and ‘Gilbert House’ eight storeys.
  • Terraces in the west. The collection of terraces in the West also roughly traced the position of blocks we have today. Block XIV is a proto-Defoe House, block XV Seddon House, XVI Thomas More House  (but very much reduced in size) , and XVII a separated proto-Mountjoy House. In this scheme the school takes up the side of the garden where we now look out onto the lake from Thomas More Garden. The ‘Defoe House’ flats were to be eight storeys high, ‘Seddon House’ nine storeys, ‘Thomas More House’ and ‘Mountjoy House’ seven storeys each.

The girls’ and boys’ schools

The 1956 scheme gave far more prominence to schools than the earlier or later schemes. The scheme involved accommodating both the City of London School for Girls and the City of London School (for boys). Ultimately, the City of London School relocated close to the river.

Although there was going to be a sort of garden in front of Thomas More House, it was going to be a ‘boscade’ of closely planted trees, surrounded by a quarter-mile long running track for the use of the schools. It was also assumed that the large paved court which was going to be part of the residential estate in an area now taken up with part of the lake on the east side of Gilbert House was going to be taken over periodically as a netball court for the girls’ school. The boys, meanwhile, would be enjoying field sports such as jumping and pole vaulting in a sunken grass-covered moat west of what is now Seddon House.

The plan was that:

“The schools should benefit from the open space surrounding them during the day when most of the residents are at work and that the resident should benefit from the same open spaces in the evenings and at weekends when the schools are closed.”

The Guildhall School of Music and Drama

For the Guildhall School of Music and Drama the architects proposed a theatre, a concert hall, and an open-air amphitheatre in a horse-shoe design with flat above. In architectural terms it was intended as a nod to the shape of Jewin Crescent, the road they would be building over. This relatively modest proposal was to grow over the years into the Barbican Centre and Frobisher Crescent.

North Barbican

The introduction of the schools into the equation meant that more space had to be allocated to them, but this was partly made possible by adding the North Barbican area (Beech Street to the Golden Lane Estate) to the development.


The 1956 scheme had a much lesser extensive system of raised walkways or high-walks. They did not go right round the estate, and sections were not joined up.

Water feature

The scheme did not include a lake. It included an ornamental water feature in front of what would be the Barbican Centre with a canal in front of Speed House, and an ornamental water feature. The area where the lake now is, was mostly taken up with a paved forecourt and formal planting area.

Glass pyramid

The conservatory was to be in the form of a huge glass pyramid. The 1955 scheme had involved lumping together an exhibition hall, swimming pool and squash courts in a single building which would have taken the form of a truncated pyramid. But this new pyramid was intended to be a full pyramid and glazed. The pyramid was designed by Christof Bon.

The conservatory was intended to sit between Speed House and Andrewes House with the ornamental water feature and cascade between it and Speed House, and a sunken grass-covered moat between it and Andrewes House.


A major feature of the 1956 scheme was the broad-walk which would have run (using the current layout) from Lauderdale Tower, then in front of Defoe House, the in front of the Arts Centre through the middle of what is now the lake, and ending up overlooking the conservatory which would have been roughly where the cascade is today. This was the big unifying feature of the scheme. The idea was that you could in fact walk right through the centre of the estate. That was, of course, abandoned in favour of the current plan where the walkways are mainly round the edge of the estate.


The 1956 scheme included two large gardens for residents on either side of the proposed school and the pyramid containing the exhibition hall, swimming pool and squash courts. These gardens became a feature of the final estate but in an amended form.

St Giles’ Church

The church was to be an occasional concert hall and to have practice rooms for the music school added to it.

The old City wall

In the 1956 report, the architects reported that the remains of three bastions of the mediaeval City of London Wall still stood in the area south of St Giles’s Church. The two southern bastions take the form of semicircular projections from the line of the wall. The northern one is three quarters circular in form at a point where the wall changes direction at a right angle. The three bastions are built of stone rubble and the ruins rise to a height of about 12 feet above present ground level. None of the connecting wall is visible above ground, so the bastions stand isolated and some distance apart. The architects proposed sinking the level of the ground around them to expose the lower part of the wall and to build the decayed tops of the bastions up to a uniform level.

City Green Yard

Relocating the “City Green Yard” exercised the City Corporation quite a bit in the 1950s plans. (I don’t know what the City Green Yard was.) The architects proposed that the Lord Mayor’s coach should be housed as a permanent exhibit in a pavilion in the central square of the estate. This was presumably in place of storing it in the new City Green Yard. They also referred to the sheriff’s chariots, and proposed that they should go in the garage area under Speed House. So it seems the City Green Yard must have housed those things before the war. The architects couldn’t find a suitable home for it in the complex.

Public houses

The proposed three public houses. In fact, there was to be an extensive beer garden for “outdoor refreshment” close to what would be Cromwell Tower.

Shopping centre

There was to be a paved courtyard opening onto Aldersgate Street, containing 16 shops. Ten of the shops were to be in a terrace, and the other six shops were to be grouped in pairs centrally in the courtyard.

This was much fewer shops than had been proposed in the 1955 scheme. Basically, Chamberlin Powell and Bon had concluded that the introduction of the schools into the equation meant that more space had to be allocated to them, and among other knock-on effects, it required a reduction in the planned number of shops.

The effect on the financial outcome of the development

Chamberlin Powell and Bon’s conclusion from a financial point of view was that – particularly in view of the inclusion of three schools and the loss of space for shops – the scheme would no longer be profitable, but it would break even, especially if contributions could be obtained from the government. Once built, the estate would also be self-supporting, and the City would own valuable buildings as a capital asset.