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Ten Interesting Facts and Figures about the Barbican in the City of London

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One of the largest developments in London, the Barbican is comprised primarily of the residential towers, the City of London School for Girls, the Museum of London, Guildhall School of Music and Drama, the YMCA building, and the Barbican Centre. It was built to fill the void created by the London Blitz and developed in the 1950s by the firm of Chamberlin, Powell, and Bon. The Barbican was designed as the model of a self-sustaining city and one of the first major multi-use developments. As such, you can believe that the development and all of its uses have produced some pretty interesting facts. It’s design is also hated and loved in equal measure.

All for One and One for All

Peter Chamberlin, Geoffrey Powell, and Christoph Bon each put in a bid to design the Golden Lion Estate with the understanding that if one of them won, they would all work on it. When Bon won the bid, they formed the firm of Chamberlin, Powell, and Bon to work on the Golden Lion Estate. After this was completed they turned their efforts to designing the Barbican.

Biggest and Best

Barbican Centre is the largest performing arts centre in Europe. The includes the 1,949 person capacity Hall, the 1,166 capacity Theatre (designed exclusively for the Royal Shakespearean Company), the 200 seat Pit, 3 cinema screens, the Barbican Library, 3 restaurants, 7 concert halls, 2 trade exhibition halls, and many more informal performance venues.

The Arts of Numbers

The final cost of building Barbican Centre in 1982 was £156 million, which in today’s money would be £500 million. Its total floor area is 20 acres and the total area of the grounds is 35 acres. The entire Barbican development contains over 130,000 cubic metres of concrete, which is enough to build roughly 19 miles of a six-lane motorway. The Hall stage can hold 110 musicians in a full orchestra.

Brutal Design

The Barbican is one of the largest examples of Brutalist design in the world. The term comes from the French word “brut”, or “raw”, and essentially refers to the bare nature of the concrete of a brutalist building’s design. The style was incredibly popular from the 1950s to the 1970s and heavily employed in the designs of government-owned or commissioned buildings. It is, shall we say, no longer popular.

First Time for Everything

Chamberlin, Powell, and Bon were also tapped to design Barbican Centre after completing the Estate, but the firm had never designed a performing arts centre before this. As a result, when they were designing the cinema, they originally had the screen on the ceiling and the front row would have had moviegoers laying down on beds.

A Wonder of the World

The Barbican Centre was proclaimed to be “one of the modern wonders of the world” by Queen Elizabeth II when she opened it in 1982. The arts centre celebrated its 30th Anniversary in 2012. The development as a whole is Grade II listed. As such, residents and other tenants must consult the Barbican Listed Building Management Guidelines before making any changes to their property to ensure that those changes are approved.

For the Votes

With the rise of suburbs in the 19th Century and the bombing during World War I and World War II, many people moved out of the City of London to the point where the government considered closing the City of London Corporation. Developments such as the Barbican were meant to bring residents back to the City so that the Corporation would not cease to exist as a local authority.

Historical Towers

The three residence towers are named Cromwell, Shakespeare, and Lauderdale for Oliver Cromwell, William Shakespeare, and the Earl of Lauderdale, respectively. They are among the tallest residential towers in London and each is 123 metres, or 404 feet, high with 42 stories. The London County Council set down planning requirements that each resident was to have a certain amount of space in their flat, so to meet the County’s requirements, the builders kept going up. At the time they were built, the towers were the highest residential structures in Europe.

A Neighbourhood Isn’t Complete without a Pub

As befits the picture of the complete-city model (at least the British idea of it), the original plans included a number of pubs. In the end, the only pub in the development was Crowders Well, which closed and became Wood Street Bar & Restaurant.

Preservation

Not forgetting what came before the Barbican, developers were sure to preserve a frieze from the Bryars and Sons building that managed to survive the bombing. It was moved due to the redevelopment and it is now located at 53 and 54 Barbican.

John Rabon
Author: John Rabon

John is a regular writer for Anglotopia and its sister websites. He is currently engaged in finding a way to move books slightly to the left without the embarrassment of being walked in on by Eddie Izzard. For any comments, questions, or complaints, please contact the Lord Mayor of London, Boris Johnson's haircut.

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9 COMMENTS

  1. Believe it or not I have never made it to the Barbican! I think I may have been put off, partly by the very negative things I read about its “brutal” look, all concrete and very ugly! I need to go check it out.

    • Save your time and money. It’s truly ugly, even on a sunny day. All the hanging plants and all the shubbery in the world couldn’t disguise the fact. Typical of the 1960s buildings elsewhere which (thankfully), in many instances, have been demolished.

  2. So which performing arts groups call the Barbican their “home’? It appears the RSC does. What about the LSO, or other musical or theatrical groups?

  3. The Barbican is a marvel. I’m surprised there was no mention of the ground floor flats facing the lake with waterfalls, etc. Very attractive. I was lucky enough to have stayed in one of those flats whilst visiting London.

  4. Thanks for this article. I keep hearing and seeing reference to the Barbican and while I love the name, I never knew exactly what was being referred to. Now I know!

  5. I first visited The Barbican in 1981 for the Museum of London which is the most wonderful museum, on subsequent visits I always had to visit the Museum again, but always found it difficult to find the entrance, even though I am a Londoner but left 50+ years ago, having married an Australian, I hope it’s easier now. It is 10 years since I was in the U.K. and London in particular, and doubt another visit, so I love this website and look forward to it all the time. Thank you so much and good luck for the future.

  6. The Museum of London is moving to West Smithfield to be closer to other sights and easier for visitors to find. I visited it most recently last year and managed to get lost – AGAIN! If you go on the museum’s site you will be able to follow the progress. A firm has not been chosen yet for the design but it will incorporate the old Smithfield Market with tons of space. I look forward to seeing it then. It is a marvelous museum, the whole history of London from pre-historic to 21st century. Not to be missed.

  7. Despite visiting London several times I’ve never seen Barbican. It had always been only a name of a tube station until recently when I read ‘Sleepless’ by Lou Morgan entirely set within the Estate. That made me really intrigued, so maybe next time I’ll manage to visit it.

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