The Abercrombie plan for the Barbican area

The Abercrombie plan was a blueprint for the reconstruction of London after the Second World War and also for its future development.

Abercrombie was an expert in town planning. Apart from London, he was involved in the re-planning of Plymouth, Hull, Bath, Edinburgh and Bournemouth. He was given the job by the British government of redesigning Hong Kong. In the architectural world there is still an annual Sir Patrick Abercrombie Prize for excellence in town planning. He was professor of planning at London University when he was commissioned to make recommendations for London.

What is called, for convenience, the Abercrombie report is really two plans: the County of London Plan published in 1943, and the Greater London Plan published in 1944. It is called the Abercrombie plan because it was principally developed by Sir Leslie Patrick Abercrombie; but for the County of London plan, Abercrombie was appointed by the London County Council to work with John Henry Forshaw, who was the LCC architect and planning officer from 1941.

One of the solutions that Abercrombie recommended in the 1943 plan – solutions for the traffic congestion, sprawl and jumble of London – was to create ring roads around the capital. These were not built, but the basic idea was put into effect in the form of the North and South circular roads which for the most part were created by joining together existing roads.

The 1944  Greater London Plan was an extension and elaboration of the 1943 plan and it was more ambitious in scope. Abercrombie proposed to separate London and the surrounding area into a series of rings – ‘inner urban’, ‘suburban’, ‘green belt’ and ‘outer country’.

  • Within the inner urban ring war-damage buildings could be reconstructed, but new housing or industrial development would be restricted to avoid overcrowding.
  • Both housing and light industry would be allowed within the suburban ring, but they would be mingled together to avoid any of the area becoming simply dormitory suburbs.
  • In the green belt ring there would be emphasis on creating open green areas and parks, and a prohibition on new building.
  • The outer country ring was to be farmland, but there would also be constructed in the outer ring eight satellite towns to relocate population away from the centre of London. This was the genesis of what would later become the ‘new towns’.

For the reconstruction of the inner City areas the Abercrombie plan introduced the concept of rebuilding bombed areas as ‘precincts’ rather than courtyards or squares. The distinction is that a precinct includes community space such as schools, shops and gardens as well as residential blocks. It could be argued that some of the open spaces in the Barbican represent the impact of Abercrombie’s precinct idea.

The Abercrombie plan related to the whole metropolis and was not specific to the City; but its influence lay behind the later proposals which more specifically homed in on the City and the Barbican area in particular.

Patrick Abercrombie was knighted in 1947 for his contributions to planning.