The towers

“Lastly the three high towers rising up into the sky will give dramatic contrast to the otherwise horizontal treatment of the buildings and, by their distinctive form and relationship to each other, will both mark the change of axis at ground level and give identity to the neighbourhood from afar.”

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

“They have wild and wilful top features and jagged balconies passing between the inner and outer uprights of the external framing.”

“The Buildings of England” Nikolaus Pevsner and Simon Bradley

Artist’s impression of life in a Barbican tower flat for Chamberlin Powell and Bon’s 1959 report to the City Corporation.

Towers first appeared in Chamberlin Powell and Bon’s 1956 proposal for the residential development of the Barbican. Their first proposal in 1955 concentrated on closely packed courtyards of low buildings. But in their 1956 proposal they went in the opposite direction entirely and proposed a total of five towers. Three of these survived through to the final plans  (called buildings VI, VII, and VIII) and were built as Lauderdale, Shakespeare and Cromwell Towers. They 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.

The proposed main three towers were to be “three slim towers”. The architectural idea behind this 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].”

The towers which the architects proposed were not going to look like the iconic towers with their jutting balconies, which we have today – that wasn’t what was originally intended at all. The architects originally designed slim inoffensive towers and referred to the “light appearance of the towers” and even poetically called them “traceried towers”.

The towers were originally not even going to be bare concrete. They were going to be covered in external framing in the form of a triangular “latticework of polished concrete”.

The towers’ height (above podium level) is 43 storeys in the case of Cromwell Tower and 44 storeys in the case of Lauderdale and Shakespeare Towers. They look triangular but, strictly speaking, they are polygonal. They are all much the same internally. Leaving aside the penthouses at the top of each tower, each floor houses three flats – one flat to a side, more or less.

“Each block is designed with an individual structure and arrangement of walls, services, et cetera, although the aspect of the flats would, of course, be different dependent upon the axis of a particular block relative to the points of the compass. 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 aspect which insures 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.”

The towers roughly run along the line of Beech Street and also roughly divide the north from the south Barbican areas. Lauderdale is solidly in the south area. Shakespeare has entrances from the south Barbican podium and the north Barbican podium (effectively a floor up). Cromwell can be accessed from the north Barbican podium and from real street level.

The basements contain tenants stores, main water storage tanks and rooms for mechanical and electrical equipment.

Each tower has three passenger lifts from a central lobby so that the residents have a choice of three lifts, or more importantly there is a reduced risk of being stranded by an out-of-order lift.

The design of the towers underwent changes after the original plan in 1959. An irregular roof line, triangular projecting balconies, and vertical structural members were introduced to the design. Among the buildings which influenced this design was the Price Tower designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1953 to 1955 which Peter Chamberlin visited in the early 1960s.