Side-to-side flats in the Barbican Estate

“Most of the blocks planned on a north to south axis (the outlook from which is either to the east or the west) have flats on either side of a central corridor. This is an economical solution as it reduces the number of lifts which need to be provided in these buildings.”

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

Side-to-side flats are found in terraces on a north-south axis. This means blocks like Seddon, Mountjoy and Gilbert Houses, where the ends of the terrace are on a north to south line.

Giving flats the maximum amount of sunlight for their living rooms was an important consideration in the plans for the Barbican estate. As Chamberlin Powell and Bon said in their 1959 report to the City Corporation:

“Wherever possible, flats, maisonettes and houses are planned to catch the sun during at least part of the day. They are also designed so that they enjoy a good prospect from the living room windows.”

Terrace blocks which run north to south have windows on the long sides which face east or west. That means that sunlight is reasonably equally split between the two sides. Windows on the east side of the terrace get sun in the mornings; and those on the west side get sun in the afternoons. So the architects decided it was reasonable to have some flats facing exclusively east, and some flats facing exclusively west. They would share the day’s sunlight equally.

(This couldn’t be done with the flats on an east-west axis, because most of the sunshine would go to the south facing flats, and little or none to to the north facing flats.)

So, with the exception of Willoughby House, north-south terraces were designed with a central corridor on each floor, with flats off it on each side, facing either east or west. Lifts and stairs are at either end of the central corridor.

The majority of the dwellings in the centre of these blocks are of the 3-room type, except on the upper floors where they are penthouses with five rooms and a roof terrace.

The general layout is the same in all these flats. The living room and the bedroom are side by side at the front; the kitchen takes a chunk out of the back of the living area (leaving a dining area on one side); the bathroom and WC are behind the bedroom. In the penthouse maisonettes, part of the living room is two storeys high, with a staircase to a gallery where there is another bedroom and a study.

This sharp differentiation between north-south flats and east-west flats is true of the South Barbican. But the situation in the North Barbican is less clear-cut. The terraces in the North Barbican are not on the same ‘grid’ as those in the south. Instead, they follow the grid of the Golden Lane Estate, their neighbour to the north.

The Ben Johnson flats are all off long central corridors, and it seems to me that Ben Jonson House is more east to west than north to south. And John Trundle Court and Breton House seem to run north-south and yet they have studio flats round individual lifts and stairs like east to west buildings in the South Barbican.