Barbican Estate

An Ode to The Barbican Estate

Header image by: Nathan Williams

To the Barbican: A city within a city

On my way to The Barbican Centre, while walking right through the City of London, I had to be extremely careful not to be trampled by the masses of City-workers making their way home. I usually compare The City at this time of day with the stampede scene in the Lion King movie.

Nonetheless, I made it, unharmed, to the Barbican Estate. Also called a city within a city by many. A Brutalist construction built post-war on a site that was completely destroyed by Nazi bombs back in WWII. The Church of England Church, St Giles-without-Cripplegate, is the only remaining building on the site. The church that dates back to 1300’s was restored after the war and is now part of the modern Barbican.

St Giles Cripplegate

Image by: Dun.can

The Barbican is a residential estate that serves both a private as well as a public purpose, with the largest cultural centre in Europe, The Museum of London, a library and two schools integrated within the estate. Inner gardens and playgrounds are part of the estate as well, making it really a city within a city. It was designed by the British firm Chamberlin, Powell and Bon who made it their mission to create a place for inner-city living.

Brutalism

Queen Elizabeth once called Brutalism: ‘one of the modern wonders of the world.’ I leave it up to you to form your own opinion about this type of architecture. What I do know is that The Barbican is a place to relax, whether you’re a fan of Brutalism or not. Pedestrians and cars are strictly separated by elevated walkways for walkers, while cars drive underneath these concrete foundations. The inner gardens of the estate are quiet and peaceful. Only the Lake Terrace is accessible to the public, while the other gardens are for residents only. Guests can now also visit the Conservatory – a true hidden gem with an abundance of tropical plants, fish and birdlife.

The Barbican Centre

Life within the Barbican

I looked out over the lake on the terrace and inspected my surroundings. Nothing of the Lion King stampede vibe remained here.

Barbican Lakeside Terrace

Image by: Fred Romero

I contemplated about the flat towers that encircled me. These massive beasts of concrete. The Cromwell Tower, the Shakespeare Tower and the Lauerdale Tower. How I would love to visit some of the apartments inside these buildings. Questions that came into mind were, how do the residents live? Do they form their own, strong community, far away and yet so close to the hustle and bustle of The City? How is it to grow up here? Are their interiors as industrial-looking as the exterior, or have they used colours as a contrast to this concrete jungle? What is the view from the top floors like?

Views from the Cromwell Tower

Half an hour later I entered the theatre of the Barbican. Another example of Brutalist architecture. The play we were about to see would distract me from my ponderings and drag me into a imaginative world (Bergman’s this time). Yet, here we are, a few days later and I’m still captivated by this large-scale inner-city project. Yes. The Barbican Estate. A city within a city.

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