Barbican estate project

(Left to right) Powell, Bon and Chamberlin looking at a model of the Barbican Estate. Going by the very smart suits, I have a hunch this must have been a crucial meeting of the City’s Court of Common Council to approve the scheme.

In their 1959 report Chamberlin Powell and Bon say that all of the following permanent or temporary members of their firm contributed to the report, in some capacity or another, so I am recording their names:

Mary Adams, George Agabeg, Margaret Agabeg, Nigel Azis, Abdullah Brechna, William Brown, Jacqueline Caro, Ross Chisholm, Michael Clements, John Connaughton, Martin Crowley, Peter Deakins, Michael Dixon, Ronald Ferguson, Clare Ferguson, John Honer, Peter Honer, Keith Manners, Eugene Mapp, Michael Neylan, Joan Pink, David Potts, Rosemary Proctor, Elsa Pryce, Rosemary Roberts, Ranjit Sabhiki, Alexander Saunders, Michael Thomas, David Turner, Peter Warren, David Williams, Watcyn Williams.

The project did not go entirely smoothly. By 1977 persistent water penetration problems were being encountered in the barrel roofs of penthouse flats in the terrace blocks. The City Corporation referred the problem to the Building Research Establishment at Watford, who reported that the problem was at least partly due to defective design.

The Barbican Development Committee instructed the City Architect to establish what proportion of the damage could be put down to defective design, and calculate the cost of putting the problem right.

In April 1978 decided that the City Corporation decided that they would have to sue Chamberlin Powell and Bon. But they had a number of concerns about how to proceed.

Chamberlin Powell and Bon were then heavily involved in the completion of the Barbican Centre, and the City Corporation were worried that if they began legal proceedings, that might jeopardise the architects’ work on phase 5 of the development – the Barbican Centre.

They were concerned whether the firm had the resources and insurance cover to meet any likely damages. (They had estimated their claim at £1.5 million.) So they also decided to investigate their financial standing and resources before starting legal proceedings.

In May 1978 Peter Chamberlin died. He was really the public face of the practice. This resulted in a loss of confidence on the part of the Barbican Development Committee. The firm had to write to the City to calm their nerves and confirm that they had the resources and the continuity of knowledge necessary to complete the project. Geoffry Powell wrote to the City to confirm that there were approximately 80 people in his firm working on the project and that Peter Chamberlin’s work had been largely completed.

In a meeting of the Barbican Development Committee on 26 June 1978 it was reported: “The chairman referred to the untimely death of Mr Peter Chamberlin on the 23rd of May and the committee stood in tribute to his memory.”

In November 1978 the Chamberlain, Comptroller and City Solicitor, the City Architect and the Barbican Manager were instructed to prepare a composite report listing all the instances of design faults which had caused maintenance problems in the Barbican development, giving a figure for the cost of remedial works and loss of income, and estimating the chances of success in making a legal claim against the architects. The Chamberlain was instructed to make no further fee payments to the architects in respect of the residential phases, but was authorised to continue to make payments under phase 5 – the Barbican Centre – to make sure that work continued without disruption.

One way to deal with the concerns about Chamberlin Powell and Bon’s ability to meet any damages claim was to hold back fees owed to them for ongoing work. The Chamberlain reported that the architects would become entitled to a further £1.6 million in fees in respect of their work on the Barbican Centre.

In February 1979 the Committee decided to stop payment of further instalments of fees due to the architects in respect of the residential development and the Comptroller and City Solicitor recommended they should do the same in respect of the Barbican Centre until the total fees exceeded the estimated cost of remedial work and loss of rent. That was obviously unworkable since it would put the firm out of business right in the middle of the Barbican Centre project so the Comptroller and City Solicitor recommended that the City should agree to pay the overheads and salary costs of the architects, but without payment of any element of profit.

In June 1980, the City filed their statement of claim against the firm in the High Court. They put the value of their claim at £1.5 million.

In January 1981 the architects filed their defence and counterclaim. They requested the matter to be transferred to the Official Referee – the High Court officer set up to deal with detailed building disputes. This was agreed by the City.

In March 1981, the Comptroller and City Solicitor estimated that the case would be heard in late 1983. There was still concern about whether Chamberlin Powell and Bon would be financially strong enough to meet any claim. They estimated that the architects would have received fees of about £6.6 million by the end of phase 5.  £5.5 million had already been paid.

In April 1981 the Committee instructed the solicitors to try to negotiate a settlement at a figure of between £350,000 and £500,000. They told the architects that they were willing to consider realistic terms for a settlement but otherwise they would pursue the claim.

The Committee members were concerned that the amount owed to the architects was running down all the time, as the Barbican Centre progressed. £125,000 was being paid to them each month. The City Corporation was still wanting to explore the issue of withholding fees. It would seem that for all the discussions on the subject over the previous two years, they had never actually done any more than talk about withholding fees. But in 1981 they finally started withholding fees and by July 1981 outstanding fees came to £700,000.

In May 1982 as settlement was reached. A press release was issued stating:

“The Corporation of the City of London and Chamberlin Powell and Bon (Barbican) have settled their respective legal actions, namely, the Corporation’s claim for damages in respect of the residential phases of the Barbican redevelopment and Chamberlin Powell and Bon (Barbican)’s claims for unpaid fees in respect of the residential and arts centre phases of the redevelopment, upon a commercial basis without any acceptance or admission of liability by Chamberlin Powell and Bon (Barbican).”

At about this time Chamberlin Powell and Bon applied to the City to be allowed to split the remaining work and responsibilities. Chamberlain Powell and Bon were dividing into two separate firms (as you can see from the wording of the press statement). Chamberlin Powell and Bon (Barbican) wished to resign from phase 5 as from 31 December 1982 and, to be succeeded by Chamberlin Powell and Bon (Lamont Road). (The original office of the firm was in Lamont Road in Chelsea.) The Town Clerk was happy with this, and the Comptroller and City Solicitor advised that the City would be no worse off under the proposed new agreement than under the 1973 agreement; that it would not detract from the Barbican firm’s insurance for work done in the past; and that the Lamont Road firm’s insurance would be no less favourable for the continuing Barbican Centre work. The rearrangement went ahead as from the end of 1982. I don’t know who the members were of each firm – the original partners may have been partners in each of the new firms but with different junior partners for each business.