Please go to the BLOCKS heading in the main menu along the top of every page, then select MAPS OF THE ESTATE for a visual layout of all the blocks, seen from different directions.
The long way round … if you need the exercise
The Barbican Estate was built with highwalks – pedestrian walkways above street level – which divide and encircle the estate. They are at the same level as the North Barbican. If you feel like really exploring and getting the satisfaction of walking all round the Barbican Estate, by all means follow the highwalks all the way round the perimeter.
If you start at the Barbican tube station, don’t leave the station at ground level. Instead, go up the stairs on your left just before the entrance, head over the bridge, keep right, and pick up the the highwalk next to Lauderdale Tower. Keep walking round anti-clockwise.
If you start at Moorgate, there are stairs or a lift up to the Barbican Estate on the corner of Silk Street and Moor Lane. You will find yourself opposite Willoughby House. Turn left and hug the perimeter wall till you go under Andrewes House. You will see the highwalk ahead of you. Keep walking round clockwise.
Either way, eventually you arrive at Frobisher Crescent, the curved building. Go through the gaps into the courtyard. The Barbican Arts Centre is ahead of you – the entrance at this level is not immediately visible but it is on the left side. Now you can pick up the short and sweet approach to the Barbican, which is my suggestion for visitors.
Short and sweet visit to the Barbican Estate
I love the Barbican. But the truth is: when you’ve seen one building, you’ve more or less seen them all. So, getting up close to every one of them won’t add much to your appreciation after the first one. Most of the Barbican is best enjoyed as a view from a slight distance – it’s mainly about setting. And you can get a satisfactory amount of that from the area around the Barbican Centre. The differences between the buildings themselves are also best appreciated when you are standing back from them And, crucially, you actually cannot access most of the best bits because they are resident-only. All sides of the lake except the bit in front of the Barbican Centre are off limits, and the two big gardens next to it. However, you can see them and admire them perfectly well from the lakeside in front of the Barbican Centre and the podium of Defoe House right next to it.
This is what I suggest for a satisfactory and enjoyable visit.
- The bridge into the Barbican. Start from Barbican tube station. Go up the stairs just inside the entrance, and head over the bridge. (The bridge isn’t original.) Now you are in the Barbican estate. Enjoy the view of the two towers (Cromwell and Shakespeare) ahead of you. You can take a closer view of the third (Lauderdale), immediately on your right.
- Down to Defoe House. Ahead of you is an end of Defoe House. Go down the stairs – not right to street level, just to the level of the concrete pillars and the curved balustrade wall. All the big blocks around the lake and gardens are virtually identical to this one, so it is a good example to inspect.
- Overlook the garden. Walk along a bit further between the pillars and the balustrade wall, and you will be surprised by the marvellous Thomas More Garden full of trees, the occasional squirrel or fox, and sometimes sunbathing residents. Immediately on your right, notice the row of little mews houses with its cobbled road and roof top gardens (including garden sheds). This is Lambert Jones Mews. Some of the houses open directly onto the garden. On the far side of the garden is Thomas More House, and you will see the rows of ‘sub-podium’ flats with their curved windows looking out onto the garden. If you walk to the end, the lake and its fountains and waterfall will come into view under Gilbert House, which spans the lake.
- Go back. The Barbican Centre and lakeside are down some steps. But don’t go that way. Retrace your steps to Lambert Jones Mews, and go back up the stairs again to where you started.
- Explore Beech Garden area. Now I suggest you wander around this area. It is the most interesting and varied part of the upper level, with a garden square – Beech Garden – flower beds, a little lake, and views of several buildings which you can look at from a distance, or go right up to – and, in the case of Ben Jonson House, under, out the other side, and back under again.
- Go through Frobisher Crescent. Further along, you will see a curved building on your right. This is Frobisher Crescent. Go through one of the entrances and you find yourselves in the ‘Sculpture Court’ (the one without any sculptures). It’s a spectacular design for a residential block, with its curved front and its distinctive wooden blinds.
- See the Conservatory. The straight wall ahead of you (with your back to the curved building) is the back of the Barbican Centre. Go left to the far left and you will find an entrance into the Barbican Centre, where you are going now. But first notice the Conservatory which is next to you, full of exotic plans. (Unfortunately, this is the closest you can normally get because it is generally reserved for marriages and functions.)
- Down a floor and out again past the golden masks. Inside the Barbican Centre – you are on the top public floor. (You can take a diversion and go to the art gallery there if you want.) Take the stairs down one floor. You get a great view of St Giles’ Church through the glass stairwell wall. On the second floor, go back into the Barbican Centre and immediately turn right and out of it again along an internal walkway.
- Spectacular murals. You come across big gold painted masks symbolising tragedy and comedy. Turn left for 40 meters then right and you enter a covered walkway with daylight ahead of you. You will find yourselves walking past some spectacular wall murals, which the City rescued from a demolished telecom building. They are well worth stopping for.
- Enjoy views over Speed Garden and the lake. Coming out into the open at the end of the passage, you now see Speed House ahead on your right. Go under it. Now you get a great view of Speed Garden, and the lake, and surrounding buildings. The building opposite is Andrewes House and you will see that it has lakeside flats, much like the garden-facing ones of Thomas More House. On your left at lower level, underneath rather strange plastic domes, is Brandon Mews, whose little houses have similar views over the garden or the lake.
- Back the same way. Retrace your steps down the passage, past the mural and back to the golden masks. Don’t re-enter the Barbican Centre yet.
- Visit St Giles’ church and surrounding area. Carry on onto the bridge over the lake. You are now under Gilbert House and you can appreciate fabulous views along the lake in both directions. The walkway continues ahead next to St Giles’ church. Take stairs down to the church. It’s nothing special inside. But wander round the back and see the ancient wall remains – particularly the large circular ‘Bastion’ and another section of lake. The area includes the back of the City of London School for Girls.
- Back to the Barbican Centre. Go back onto the bridge, back to the Barbican Centre, and turn left into it before the golden masks. Now, I am leaving you free to enjoy a drink by the lakeside and explore the Barbican Centre. (I challenge you to get to the library from the ground floor.)
- Alternative refreshments. If you want further refreshments, go out of the main entrance of the Barbican Centre on Silk Street and turn to your left, where you will find a Cote Restaurant across the road, which is actually quite good, and a large café inside the cinema building next to it. If you prefer a pub, there is the Jugged Hare on the corner on your right.