The Barbican 


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The Barbican, Yesterday and Today -
the development, facilities and lifestyle of the Barbican

Architectural influences

Residential accommodation

The Barbican today
BarbicanEast facing view of the Barbican and the City 

The City was originally a site of Roman settlement, and traces of their occupation abound, foundations of buildings, temples and relics of the forum.  London was protected by Barbicans at corners of the City wall, hence the name of the development. Between 1851 and 1951, the residential population of the City of London had fallen from around 125,000 to some 5,000.  By day, the square mile was bustling with half a million commuting office employees; by night it was a ghostly "City of cats and caretakers ". A maze of small streets and warehouses before the war, the area was bombed in December 1940 and completely devastated.  A site of 40 acres was leveled but it was 20 years before reconstruction began.  The whole complex has now been listed Grade II.

In a highly-imaginative post-war planning initiative the City adopted a proposal advanced in 1956 recommendation of the then Minister of Housing, Duncan Sandys, that the Barbican area should become "a genuine residential neighbourhood incorporating schools, shops, open spaces and other amenities, even if this means foregoing a more remunerative return on the land".  

 The design, by award-winning architects Chamberlin, Powell & Bon, concentrates the flats and maisonettes - of which there are 140 different types - in the three towers, each of over 40 stories, and a dozen or more terraces grouped around squares, courts and gardens.  The architects had already worked on a nearby City council estate, Golden Lane, and were well thought of by the City of London.  Construction took a long time, partly as a result of catastrophic industrial action on the site.   The final result is that, of the 15.2ha (38 acre) site, 9.5ha (23 acres) are open space in the form of a lake, lawns, planted areas, landscaped terraces, walks and gardens (more than double the area which was laid down in the original planning permission). This farseeing concept, of concentrated urban living combined with generous provision of open space, has served the Barbican well in its transition from a wholly tenanted to a largely privately-owned estate. The car-free layout, with parking and heavy traffic below podium levels, also turns out to have been appropriately forward looking.
Arts Centre

There are ducks and moorhen, sometimes even a crane.   The City Gardens Department maintains year-round planting. Some modern statues have been commissioned.  The Barbican is a very special place.  For non-Londoners, the City is the financial district with a huge population by day, and only a few thousand at night.   But an American would probably think of our complex as a combination of the Kennedy Center and Watergate, in Washington DC.  In the Barbican the flats sell one at a time and nobody advertises them much.  Yet they are in a prime location in the business district of London.  Recently several property companies have been developing old office blocks nearby into apartments.  There the prices are higher than the Barbican itself, and there is often no parking and a less than beautiful environment.  Office development is continually altering our skyline.

South of the Barbican is Smithfield, where Bartholomew's fair is held annually, outside St Bartholomew's Hospital

Bartholomew's Fair outside Barts Panoramic view south and west, at sunset 

Photos on this site were mainly taken by Geoffrey Rivett, who acknowledges his debt to many who have written on the Barbican, for example local Estate Agents such as Frank Harris, articles in the Barbican Resident, and the exhibition  This was Tomorrow, curated by David Heathcote.  His book is available, Penthouse Over the City: The Barbican and Modern Urban Living.  ISBN: 0-470-85143-0 Hardcover, 232 pages, Published June 2004