Terrace balconies in the Barbican Estate

The way Chamberlin Powell and Bon designed the balconies of terrace blocks was with balustrades, consisting of a concrete ‘upstand’ (or small wall) about 17 inches wide and about 16 inches high, and a metal frame with wires in it on top.

There was to be a frame metal balustrude on top of the concrete upstand which stands 3.5 feet above the balcony floor. The top of this balustrade is a 3 inch square galvanised steel tube. As originally designed, between the low concrete wall and the metal tube at the top of the balustrade, stainless steel ropes were to be inserted 6 inches apart, going through holes in the metal uprights holding up the metal framework. The uprights are placed 5 feet apart, near the outer edge of the upstand. The idea was to provide some safety against anyone falling off the balcony while still allowing an unimpeded view out of the flats, and to allow room for window boxes to be placed on the upstand – or even for the upstand to be used for seating.

Before this system was installed safety concerns were raised by the architect of the Greater London Council about the potential danger of children climbing over the wires or forcing a way between them and falling off the balconies.

In response, the City decided that they ought to incorporate the highest possible safety standards. The Barbican Committee considered a lot of different solutions and finally concluded that the best method would be to install vertical panels of toughened glass above the inner face of the concrete upstands all along the balconies, and to add one additional steel wire to the already planned wires, to reduce the gap between them. The conclusion was that this would preserve the view from the flats, still leave a good place for putting window boxes between the glass and the wires, and would do enough to prevent children from climbing onto the top of the upstand or getting through the wires.

Another issue which arose in 1968 was that the use of the balconies as fire escape routes could result in a certain lack of privacy for the individual flat occupiers because whoever happened to be on a balcony could look down the whole length of the balcony and see what everybody else was doing. It would also be possible from one person’s balcony to look into the rooms next door. The Barbican Committee, said:

“We considered that, in view of the high standard of the Barbican flats and to facilitate letting, these conditions should be improved”.

They recommended that privacy doors should be placed across the balconies in line with the division between the flats. Still with children in mind they added:

“These doors will serve additionally to prevent very small children from wandering along the length of the balconies”.