The Barbican is a large complex in the City of London which is home to an arts centre, schools, the Museum of London, and about four thousand residents. It is also well-known for its brutalist architecture and rather disorientating high-walk geography. An architectural tour offers more insight into this development, now Grade II-listed but still disliked by many Londoners.
The City of London suffered badly in the Blitz, and Cripplegate ward was particularly badly damaged. Among the historic buildings which did survive were the parish church, St Giles Without Cripplegate, and remains of the city walls - all of which can still be found within the concrete complex.
In the 1950s, discussion began on how to redevelop the area; since the population had dropped from over five thousand to 48, residential development was seen as a priority. After winning an architectural competition, Chamberlin, Powell & Bon began work in 1965.
The name of the estate alludes to the fortifications which once stood on part of the site - and that spirit of being fortified and protected from the outer world is fundamental to its architecture. Walk up from its underground car parks, or across the footbridge from Barbican underground station, and you are inside a space which aimed to offer all its residents needed, with its walls protecting them from the noise and activity of the city beyond. There are the homes and cultural amenities, of course, but also a lake, a garden, the arts centre, doctors and dentists, and an area originally intended as a shopping centre.
Brutalism is intended to refer not to the brutality of form and colour, but rather to this architectural style's emphasis upon beton brut, or raw concrete. In fact, the apparent rough-and-ready appearance of the concrete is misleading. When poured, it had the smooth surface of the wooden shutters which shaped it. A great deal of work with special hammers was required to give a rough surface which exposed the Welsh granite aggregate within.
Did this tour persuade me to join the Barbican's admirers? Not altogether, but it does give a better appreciation of how the complex works, why it is more than just another mass of high-rise concrete, and why so many of its residents are very proud to live there.