There’s a huge amount of detail in our Barbican Living website about each block and every type of flat – there’s well over 120 different flat layouts and we cover them all. Perhaps there is so much detail that it is almost possible to get a handle on what the Barbican Estate has to offer. So, this is my effort to tell you the most important things you need to know in order to help you make decisions about where to live in the Barbican Estate.
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.
North and South
The first thing to understand is that there is a basic division between two parts of the Barbican estate. The South Barbican is basically the set of buildings surrounding the lake, the two gardens on either end, and the Barbican Centre. This was what was originally intended to be the entire Barbican estate. But before it was built, the City decided to add the North Barbican on spare land between the South Barbican and the Golden Lane estate.
These are the main distinguishing factors:
- the North Barbican is stepped up a level. This is a river valley and the whole area is sloping very gently down towards the Thames. The South Barbican could all be built on the same level, but there had to be a step up for the North Barbican to make it flat.
- The three towers very roughly mark the boundary between the North and South Barbicans. Beech Street (the tunnel road) is also a dividing line between the two parts.
- The buildings in the North and South Barbican are oriented quite differently. The buildings are always built at right angles, but you if you look at the map of the Barbican from above, you will see that the grid of South Barbican blocks is oriented quite differently from the grid of North Barbican blocks. The North Barbican blocks were designed to match the grid of the Golden Lane estate to the North.
None of that probably makes any difference to you when thinking of what flats to look out for. But the difference that will matter to you is that the flat layouts in the North Barbican are very different from those in the South. South Barbican terrace blocks contain mostly one- and two- bedroom flats on a single level. North Barbican terrace blocks contain many studio flats and 3-bedroom maisonettes on two or even three levels.
Apart from Willoughby House, which has its own layout for weird reasons I’ll explain later, all the South Barbican blocks generally fall into two types. They are either blocks with flats running right the way through the block with living windows at the front and bedroom windows at the back (“North-and South-facing flats”), or blocks with flats which are all on one side or the other of a block with their living room and bedroom windows looking out in the same direction (“East- or West-facing flats”).
The flats in the North Barbican are more varied. There are still one- and two-bedroom flats to be found, but there is also a concentration of studio flats and quite large maisonettes, which almost match tower flats in size.
South Barbican blocks often contain sub-podium flats which face gardens or the lake. North Barbican flats do not.
You probably won’t much care whether you eventually live in the North or South, but it’s worth understanding the distinctions so you can know where to look for the flat type or size you want.
The different blocks and what they contain
The broadest distinction between kinds of flats – stretching ‘flats’ a bit – is between terrace flats, tower flats, and mews houses.
They are the properties in Lambert Jones Mews or Brandon Mews. Lambert Jones Mews properties have their own little cobbled mews and they are self-contained houses with little garden areas on top, replete with garden sheds. Many of the houses in Lambert Jones Mews have doors opening directly into Thomas More Garden.
Brandon Mews at the other (Moorgate) end of the estate is less quaint but also contains little houses (but without access to their roofs, which are covered by a strange plastic arrangement.) Many of these have views directly onto the lake, or onto Speed Garden, but no direct access.
The biggest ‘houses’ are in Wallside. These properties don’t look like houses at all from the Barbican side; it’s only when you go to the street round the back where they have their front doors that you see them for what they are. These houses look out onto the lake extension and the old City walls behind the church. (The Postern also has ‘houses’ but these are mainly commercial or related to the church.)
There are three original towers: Cromwell Tower, Shakespeare Tower, and Lauderdale Tower. They are very similar, but not the same. The flat layouts are subtly different. Also, each tower is oriented slightly differently from the others, so that flats in the three blocks look out in slightly different directions. Click on this link for a lot more detail on the flat layouts in each of the three original towers.
With tower flats, views matter. Flats are pricier the further up the buildings you go. Views of St Paul’s and nice views of London generally attract a premium.
The final tower in the Barbican – Blake Tower – was a late addition to the estate. It used to be a YMCA. But it was redeveloped in the last decade as flats and incorporated into the Barbican family. The layouts of these flats are quite distinct from normal Barbican layouts.
Terrace blocks in the South Barbican
Barbican terrace blocks form grids, with buildings either parallel to or at right angles to each other. (As explained above, the North and South Barbicans have their separate grid systems.)
Which way the building is facing generally determines the layout of flats. In the South Barbican, the four largest blocks are parallel to each other and enclose the gardens and the lake: these are Defoe House and Thomas More House (facing each other across Thomas More Garden), and Speed House and Andrewes House (facing each other over Speed Garden and the lake). These blocks generally contain very similar flats, either one-bed or two-bed flats, with the living rooms all facing South, towards the Thames, and the bedrooms all facing North towards the North Barbican and Islington. In other words, the flats run right through the block from front to back. (These are the “North-and South-facing flats” I explained above.)
The smaller blocks which are at right angles to those big four – and which are parallel to each other – are: Seddon House (next to Aldersgate Street), Gilbert House (straddling the lake), and Mountjoy House running South from Thomas More House. Most of the flats in these three blocks are similar to each other, and very different from those in the first four blocks. Instead of running right through the block from front to back, these flats are built on either side of a central corridor. Flats either face West, or East. (These are the “East- or West-facing flats” I described above). Which way a flat faces can have a big impact on prices. Seddon House flats facing West over the gardens and into the Barbican can command higher prices than the flats on the side looking down onto Aldersgate Street. The difference isn’t so marked with Mountjoy House and Gilbert House, but it is a factor.
A major difference between these two types of blocks is that the front to back flats (“North-and South-facing flats” ) come in pairs with a stairwell and a lift shaft between them, which means that every block has 10 or more individual lift shafts. The buildings with flats facing only one way (“East- or West-facing flats”) have a central corridor which means that they only have two lift shafts, one at each end.)
Willoughby House is rather different from the other blocks in the South Barbican. When the Barbican was designed, the land to the East of the estate was a rundown mess, not the gleaming towers we see today, and the architects reckoned that no one would want to be looking out of their windows onto that. So Willoughby House was designed to create flats that basically all looked out West over the lake into the Barbican Estate. This led to the creation of very individually shaped flats with a kind of “scissor” design which results in entrances off the corridor, which then lead up to the main part of the flat on a higher floor or down to the main part on the lower floor. It’s difficult to generalise about the flats in Willoughby House.
Terrace blocks in the North Barbican
In the North Barbican, there are no buildings like the ones in the South Barbican with flats running right through the block from front to back on a single floor. But in larger flats and maisonettes the same result is achieved in a different way.
In the North, most flats are accessed off a central corridor like the ones in Seddon, Gilbert, and Mountjoy Houses in the South. But they are not confined, like those in the South, to having equal-sized, mirror flats on one side or other of that corridor. The main block in the North Barbican is Ben Jonson House – which is so long that it has a lift shaft in the middle to supplement those at each end. As in the South, the block which is parallel to it – Bunyan Court – has a similar layout. In these two blocks, there are only corridors only on every other floor. Off those corridors, on one side, will be a small flat much like their equivalents in Gilbert, Seddon and Mountjoy Houses, with windows facing all one way. On the other side of the corridor, the entrance leads into a similar-sized space on that floor, but then there is a staircase up (or down) to an entire floor which – freed from any corridor – extends from front to back, thus providing a flat which can compete with a tower flat in size.
Again, as in the South, the blocks at right angles to those blocks have entirely different layouts.
John Trundle Court, which runs south from Bunyan Court, and Breton House, which runs north from Ben Jonson House, have their own very similar flat layouts. These are clusters of studio flats built around individual staircases and lift shafts. There may be two to four studios per floor in each group, with windows facing east or west. These buildings are really where you would be looking for studio flats.
The other built side of the garden square in the North Barbican, is Bryer Court. This is the one with the little lake under it. The flats don’t quite follow the system I’ve just described of containing flats identical to those in the blocks parallel to it (John Trundle Court opposite, and Bunyan Court). The architects designed the Bryer Court flats differently, because the back of the building faces out onto a commercial development, which predated the Barbican, and the designers didn’t want people to have to look out onto it. So they designed the building with corridors at the back so that the flats all face out onto the garden square at the front. But the flats are still studio flats.
Different kinds of flats and where to find them
The basic distinction you probably have in mind as you look for a flat is: how many bedrooms you want. These links will take you to pages detailing where to find them – 1 bedroom, 2 bedrooms 3+ bedrooms
There are many studio flats on the Barbican Estate, particularly in the North Barbican, where several of the buildings are almost exclusively studios. That includes the three blocks around Beech Gardens – Bryer, John Trundle, and Bunyan Courts – and Breton House. But there are also many in Ben Jonson House.
Also mainly in the North Barbican, you will find a variety of maisonettes – flats which are on two or even, in some cases, three floors
Most Barbican blocks have penthouse flats. They are the flats on the top floor. There are three penthouse flats on the jagged tops of each of the three original Barbican towers – very expensive and, I guess, quite convoluted in layout. Every terrace block has its top (usually 6th) floor of penthouse flats. They usually differ from the regular ones by virtue of the opportunity which ‘the sky’s the limit’ gave to Chamberlin Powell & Bon to go a bit wild with the windows and balconies. (You can see this most clearly in the tops of Ben Jonson House and Bunyan Court.)
Some Barbican blocks have garden flats. ‘Garden flats’ is what we used to call ‘basement flats’ in blunter times. But, to be fair, the garden nomenclature is earned by the fact that most of them do at least look over a garden. The four similar blocks in the South Barbican – Defoe, Thomas More, Andrewes and Speed Houses – all have garden flats, overlooking Thomas More Garden or Speed Garden or the lakeside. (Some Andrewes House flats actually do have their own little gardens in concrete scoops on the outside of the Barbican Estate.) The other blocks in the South do not have garden flats, and nor do any of the blocks in the North Barbican.
Flat plans and ‘types’
Once you start looking for flats in the Barbican and talk to the local estate agents, you will very quickly become familiar with the Barbican flat ‘types’. When the estate was built, there were over a hundred different flat layouts. Each one was given a designation consisting of numbers or numbers and letters. With some of those flat types, there are only one or two examples in the entire estate – usually where they had to fit a flat into an inconvenient corner – so you don’t really need to know all the flat types. But there are twenty or so, which come up all the time.
All the layouts for all the ‘types’ are here on Barbican Living
If you want to see what each layout looks like exactly, you need to go to the main menu item running along the top of the website on every page named FLATS and then click FLAT PLANS AND FLAT TYPES from the drop-down menu. Under the ORIGINAL BARBICAN ESTATE heading, click on the number of a particular flat type and it will show you exactly what it looks like and give you a description, as well as a comparison with similar flats.
Towers are easy. Most of the flats are types 1A, 1B, or 1C. (The A, B and C just indicate which side of the building they are on.) Most of the flats in Lauderdale Tower and Cromwell Tower are types 1A, B, C. Most of the flats in Shakespeare Tower are types 8A, 8B, and 8C. (The other numbers are for flats on certain floors in the three towers where, for example, there’s a water tank which affects the shape of the flat, or some other factor which changes the layout slightly from the norm.)
Flat types in South Barbican terrace blocks
In the terrace blocks, the flat types are only slightly more varied. Most 2-bedrooms flats in the four biggest blocks around the lake and gardens – Defoe, Thomas More, Speed, and Andrewes Houses will are type 19 and type 23, and the one-bedroom are type 20. In Seddon, Gilbert and Mountjoy Houses, types 26 and 31 one-bedroom flats predominate.
Willoughby House on its own accounts for nearly 20% of the total flat types because the flats are so individually shaped, and there is no one type which predominates.
Flat types in North Barbican terrace blocks
In the North, Barbican area, Ben Jonson House and Bunyan Court contain studio flats which are mostly type F2C, and one-bed maisonettes of type M2A or M2B (virtually identical), and many M3A and M3B two-bedroom maisonettes (also virtually identical). The studios in John Trundle Court and Breton House are usually in four-flat combinations of two types F1A and two type F2A flats. Most of the studio flats in Bryer Court are type F1D.
Frobisher Crescent and Blake Tower
When you’re on the FLAT PLANS AND FLAT TYPES page, you’ll see that there are different sections entirely for Frobisher Crescent and Blake Tower. This is because they were turned into flats much later, and didn’t follow the original numbering system. In fact, the flats are very different. All the flats in Frobisher Crescent are inevitably wedge-shaped to some degree, as they face into the circular Sculpture Court. (That’s the courtyard without any sculptures in it). But again, several of the types are repeated very frequently on the three floors. For example, of the 69 flats, 17 of the flats on the 9th floor are identical type 9.2 one-bedroom flats, and 13 of the flats on the 8th floor are identical type 8.3 studio flats. For most of the other flat types, there are only one or two examples of each.
Blake Tower is the most recently converted building. I invented the flat types, to be honest, to make it consistent.
Even more detailed information.
If you go to the FLATS main heading in the menu along the top of the page, then select BUYING A FLAT, and then CHOOSING THE RIGHT FLAT, you’ll find an even more detailed analysis of the different buildings and flat types. I hope that between that explanation and this one, you can work out exactly what you want from what’s available.
You should also go to the BLOCKS main heading in the menu along the top of the page, then select COMPARE THE BLOCKS.