July 1969. Speed House was the first Barbican block to be built. This building was part of Phase III of the City’s building programme for the Barbican site. It was known as Block VI until completed. The contractor was John Laing Construction Limited.
The building consists of seven bays between giant concrete columns, with a narrower eighth bay set at right angles. Each bay contains a staircase and lift. In each bay on each floor there are two flats, one on either side of the staircase unit. The flats ‘wrap round’ the staircase unit at front and back. The bays are subdivided into three ‘room’ spans, so that one of the two flats has a two room span and the other has a one room span at front or back. As a result, on most floors, the flats are ‘L’-shaped and fit together round the staircase units so that one has a two span living room and a one span bedroom and the other has a one span living room and two bedrooms. This pattern is repeated along the building.
There are seven storeys above podium with two storeys beneath. The podium is open under the upper structure of the building and has glazed entrances to the flats in each of the eight bays. The top floor (which has to be reached by a flight of stairs) contains two penthouses per bay with barrel vaulted roofs and ceilings. There are two-storey maisonettes on the levels below the podium, with car ports and bedrooms on the lower level which face onto Speed Gardens.
Speed House is a terrace block tucked into the north-east corner of the estate, running east to west between The Guildhall School of Music and Drama and Willoughby House. It forms the northern boundary of Speed Gardens.
Speed House is an ‘east-west’ or ‘front to back’ block which means that it runs from east to west and the flats in them go the whole depth of the block from the front to the back. So residents look out of their windows north and south, except for the sub-podium flats which only look south.
Speed House is one of four very similar terrace blocks: Andrewes House and Speed House which face each other over Speed Gardens and the lake; and Thomas More House and Defoe House, which face each other over Thomas More Gardens. They each have penthouse flats at the top, ‘garden’ flats below the podium level, and regular flats in between. However, although many of the same flat types make up most of the flats in each house, there are many differences – most markedly in the nature of the ‘garden’ of sub-podium flats which are very different in each block.
Speed House has 114 flats, maisonettes and penthouses with accommodation varying from two to five rooms. There are five floors of flats starting one level above the podium, with penthouse flats on the top floor. In addition, there are maisonette flats below podium level. Living rooms overlooks the garden and the lake. The garden flats differ from those in the similar blocks. Instead of two levels of single-storey flats below the Podium, the garden flats in Speed House are two-floor maisonettes, mainly of Type 84, with both living room and bedroom windows looking south over the gardens and lake.
There are entrance doors at podium level on Speed Highwalk for each staircase. There are stairs to some of the garden flats by separate entrances between the pillars on the podium. There is also access at street level from Silk Street, next to the Guildhall School of Music, where you can either go through a gate into Speed Garden, or take a residents-only lift to the podium (or higher if you live in that section), or turn left down the ramp to the Speed Car Park.
Lifts and staircases
Since each flat takes up the depth of the building, there is no central corridor. Instead, there are separate staircases with lifts every two flats along the block. Each staircase serves two flats on each floor. There are 8 staircases numbered 27 to 34.
On 02 level there is access to the Speed Car Park, whose entrance is off Silk Street next to the Guildhall School of Music. (The Willoughby Car Park sit on top of it at 01 level, also under Speed House.) There is also a 03 level which is marked as car parking on some signs and lifts, but in fact that now belongs to The Heron.
I haven’t located the tenants’ stores.
At the front, Speed House overlooks Speed Garden, its own very attractive little garden with swings and a slide for children. There are large bushes and shrubs in beds next to the Guildhall School, and very lush grass and flowers. In front of Speed Garden is a covered bower which leads to the School and then to The Barbican Arts Centre. Beyond is the lake. At the back of Speed House is Speed Highwalk, with round concrete tubs full of low flowering plants and some wooden benches. Otherwise, the outlook at the back is over the office buildings in Silk Street.