The Barbican Estate

The Barbican Estate (116)

This residential complex was built between 1965 and 1976 in the heart of City of London and is the maximum exponent of Brutalism in the city. And just what is "Brutalism"? Brutalism is an architectural style that had its heyday from the 1950s to the 1970s and is typically characterised by the exaltation of the materials used in the construction by leaving them in plain view. And in the Barbican Estate you will see precisely that, blocks of exposed concrete and brick, a pure expression of this architectural style.

The name Barbican has been handed down from Roman times, when this area formed part of the walls of what was Londinium. The Latin word "barbecana" was used to designate a construction similar to a fortified gatehouse used to defend gates, bridges and so forth ... and there was no shortage of them here.  

The present-day Barbican started out life as a reconstruction project for a part of the city that had been severely damaged by the World War II bombings. To give you an idea of just how devastating the war was for this part of town, in 1951, of the 5324 former inhabitants of the City, only 48 still lived in the 35-acre site that is now the Barbican. As a result, on the 19th of September, 1957, the decision was taken to repopulate the area via the construction of a residential complex, though construction would not begin until 8 years later. Those entrusted with bringing the project to fruition were the young architects Chamberlin, Powell and Bon, who had forged a budding reputation as a result of having won a competition in 1951 for the construction of the residential Golden Lane Estate, located just to the north of the Barbican, an additional reason to award them the commission, as the Barbican would continue in the same style. A style, by the way, that was very influenced by the architect Le Corbusier.

The architects' idea was that homes, schools, theatres, restaurants and shops would be integrated into one neighbourhood. Everything under the one roof, so to speak. Meaning the residents would have everything they needed to hand. But what really makes the Barbican special is the way in which the various buildings are arranged.  The idea was to create 3 distinct spaces. A private space, a neighbourhood community, and finally a public space, and all accessed by separate routes for pedestrians and traffic. Even today you can see markings in the paving indicating the routes that can be taken to the various institutions housed on the estate. Bearing these aspects in mind the architects came up with the ideal solution. They decided to raise the blocks of flats on podiums, leaving the ground level for gardens and decorative lakes as leisure areas for the residents. If you like what you see, you're in luck, because it is destined to remain as it is for the foreseeable future, and even more so since 2001, when it was designated as a site of special architectural interest for its scale and cohesion and the ambitious nature of the project.

This complex also houses several cultural institutions, such as the Barbican Centre (performing arts), the headquarters of the London and BBC Symphony Orchestras, a school of music and theatre, the Conservatory, a library, an art gallery, the Museum of London and even the ancient Church of St Giles Cripplegate, or rather what's left of it, since it was almost entirely destroyed in the intense bombing raids during World War II. Even so, it is one of the few medieval churches still standing in London. 

The Barbican opened its doors to the public in 1969 while still under construction, but it was not until the 3rd of March, 1982, when it was officially inaugurated by Queen Elizabeth II. The complex is currently home to about 4000 people, distributed throughout 2014 residential units. Transformed into a district that is synonymous with culture and the performing arts, to live here today is a sign of distinction and/or purchasing power. No doubt you will notice this as you stroll through the area.

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