The building programme for the Barbican Estate

“Having examined the many problems involved we reach the conclusion that – if the project is tackled with resolution – the whole could be completed within seven years from approval of the designs.”

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

The Barbican was constructed in 6 ‘phases’ (I, II, III, IV, V, and Va). ‘Phases’ is the term used, both in practice and in Chamberlin, Powell & Bon’s 1959 report, and it is misleading. ‘Phases’ denotes stages taking place at different times, usually one after the other – like ‘the phases of the moon’.  ‘Phases’ was used in the Barbican context to mean separate building sites. Phase I meant the public services building (Milton Court) and Phase Va meant Shakespeare Tower – places not stages.

Phase I | the Public Services Building

Phase I comprised:

the Public Services Buildings (Milton Court).

(There were some related projects at the Phase I stage: Rerouting of railway which was carried out by Higgs and Hill Limited; and the creation of an LEB sub-station which was apparently carried out in two stages: stage 1 by  Holloway Brothers Limited and stage 2 by Kia Limited).

In April 1962 J Jarvis & Sons Limited won the contract to construct the Public Services Buildings (Milton Court) at a price of £467, 250. There were many problems. The contract works were dogged by industrial relations problems and they could not meet the contractual completion date. There were constant worker ‘go slows’. Jarvis expected the delay to reach 6 months and, to avoid penalties for breach of contract, they invoked the clause in the building contract which allowed for extensions to be granted for delays due to labour problems. (I don’t have figures for the cost over-run for this phase.)

Phase II | the West Barbican round the church and Thomas More Gardens

Phase II comprised:

City of London Girls School 1963-1969
The Postern (completed March 1971)
Wallside (completed March 1971)
Mountjoy House (completed April 1971)
Thomas More House (completed September 1973)
Defoe House (completed December 1973)
Lambert Jones Mews (completed February 1974)
Seddon House (completed May 1974)
Lauderdale Tower (completed October 1974)

Essentially, Phase II covered the western section of the South Barbican area. Turriff Limited were awarded the contract for £6,000,000. There were many strikes on Turriff’s site, including one infamous strike in 1965, and there were long delays in carrying out the project. Turriff was allowed to leave the site without completing its contract and John Laing Construction Limited agreed a price of £1,400,000 with the City to complete the project. Laing were to receive £3,821,782.10 by the time the contract ended – presumably the City had to shoulder the cost of delays caused by labour disputes. The total cost of Phase II to the City was over £14,000,000.

Phase III | the East Barbican round the lake

Phase III comprised:

Speed House (completed July 1969)
Gilbert House (completed August 1969)
Andrews House (completed November 1969)
Brandon Mews (completed November 1969)
Willoughby House (completed April 1971)
Cromwell Tower (completed January 1973)

In March 1964 Laing signed up to a five-year contract to carry out the Phase III building works for just under £6,000,000. Due to strikes and walkouts and problems with changes to the details of the specification, the final cost was over £11,500,000. But Laing were not blamed for the overrun, which was also the case on the other phases, and in fact they were the most reliable of the contractors and they were also awarded the contract for completing Turriff’s work on Phase 1 and of course the job of building the Barbican Centre itself (Phase V) which turned into one of the worst examples of overruns of all time.

Phase IV | the North Barbican behind the Barbican Centre

Phase IV comprised:

John Trundle Court (completed October 1972)
Breton House (completed November 1972)
Bunyan Court (completed December 1972)
Bryer Court (completed February 1973)
Ben Jonson House (completed March 1973)
Commercial areas
YMCA Hostel Block

Myton, a subsidiary of Taylor Woodrow, was awarded the three-year contract to carry out the construction of Phase IV in November 1964 at a price of  £5,581,022. (There was a separate smaller contract for clearing and pile the site which Mowlem won for £220,801.) Myton suffered – maybe created would be a better word – increasing industrial problems culminating in a lock-out which turned into a strike which lasted for 14 months. They twice issued redundancy notices to the entire workforce – on the second occasion they apparently did it as a tactic to force the City to increase the contract price.

Phase V | the Barbican Centre

Phase V comprised:

The Barbican Centre (or Barbican Arts Centre)
Frobisher Crescent
Guildhall School of Music and Drama

The contract was awarded to John Laing Construction Limited at a price of just under £14,000,000. In terms of cost overruns however this phase outdid all others by a huge margin. The final cost by the time the Barbican Centre was ready to open in 1982 was £159,000,000 – a more than tenfold increase.

Phase Va | Shakespeare Tower

Phase Va comprised:

Shakespeare Tower (completed in February 1976)

The work was carried out by Sir Robert McAlpine and Sons Limited. I don’t have information about the progress of this construction project.

The building programme anticipated in the 1959 report

Purely as a matter of academic interest really, I am setting out below the phases mapped out by Chamberlin Powell and Bon in their 1959 report to the City Corporation. The images on the right are from that report and reflect the architects plan of campaign at that stage.

South Barbican (Beech Street to London Wall)

Phase 1. Site clearance

This would involve site clearance, filling and level levelling, rerouting services, rerouting the railways, commencing the proposed new Red Cross St.

Phase 2. Blocks I, IV, X, XI, XII (approximate cost £3,000,000)

These are Lauderdale Tower (block I), Defoe House (block IV), Lambert Jones Mews (block IVb), Mountjoy House (block X), Thomas More House (block XI), and Seddon House (block XII).

“These blocks form together a coherent unit of the whole, demonstrating the principles of design and embracing all the main constructional problems, including one tower block. This is the most appropriate unit to start and finish first, as it is large enough to challenge the best contractors, yet not too large for one contract. The rate of building to be aimed at would ensure completion with 3 1/2 years.

Phase 3. Blocks II, III, V  (approximate cost £3,000,000)

These are Shakespeare Tower (block II), Cromwell Tower (block III) and Frobisher Crescent(block V)

“A start on phase 3 should be made as soon after phase 2 as possible, starting with the podium construction, block III, and the second of the tower blocks, which would then rise together with the tower block included in phase 1.

The podium construction would proceed as far as the existing route of the railway. Once all the new railway tunnels have been constructed, building work in the area of the old railway, which could include blocks V and block II could continue. The last of the towers being completed at the end of the sixth year. Alternatively, the third tower could be hived off as a separate contract, at least until the performance of contractors on blocks I and II had been demonstrated.”

Phase 4. Blocks VI, VII, VIII, IX  (approximate cost £3,000,000)

These are Speed House (block VI), Willoughby House (block VII), Brandon Mews (block VIIb), Andrewes House (block VIII), Gilbert House (block IX). (This would not have been Gilbert House as we know it today, since the plans in 1959 included a boxed-in road running through the site roughly where Gilbert House is today. However, during construction block IX was Gilbert House.

“The progress with the railway work would substantially affect this phase, although blocks VIII and IX could be started at the end of the third year. The remainder of phase 4 would be likely to be completed at the end of the seventh year as access to the buildings in phase 5 will be required near block VI.”

Phase 5. Public buildings (approximate cost £1,250,000)

Public buildings meant the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and the City of London School for Girls.

“It is probable that the work required to be done to the underground railway will delay a start being made on the new theatre, concert hall and drama school until the fourth year of the programme. But the main block containing the teaching accommodation for the music school could be started in the first two years. The new building for the girl’s school could be started within the first 18 months.”

North Barbican (Beech Street to Golden Lane Estate)

These plans were necessarily rather vaguer than those for the South Barbican because in 1959, the City had only recently decided to include the north Barbican area in the development, and they were still undecided about how much land to include.

Phase 1

An area either side of Golden Lane and north of Barbican, which was intended to provide commercial floor-space for the rehousing of businesses displaced by the next stage. (‘Barbican’ was a road which is now part of Beech Street. So regard it as meaning Beech Street.)

Phase 2

A substantial area between Fann Street, Barbican and Goswell Road.

Phase 3

The most eastern section of the site fronting Beech Street and Whitecross Street which could be carried out conveniently with phase 2. The size of the area still depended on where the City was going to draw the line on the development.

Phase 4

A relatively small area of site near the Cripplegate Institute and Bridgwater Square.