The Barbican

Robert Elms

The residential towers of the Barbican, Lauderdale, Cromwell and Shakespeare.

...I call it home and feel honoured to do so, because this is the best example of 20th Century architecture in all London.

Sculpture Court at the Barbican ©Max Colson

It’s the monumental scale and scope of the Barbican estate, which blows you away, an epic and optimistic urban intervention, which reshaped The City and redefined the way we live. Either that or it’s the wind, which whips around the towers and through the unknowable labyrinth of walkways. At least I thought it was unknowable, a baffling brutalist maze until I moved there and slowly mastered its secrets and discovered its delights. Now I not only know it, but I call it home and feel honoured to do so, because this is the best example of 20th Century architecture in all London.

Lakeside Terrace at the Barbican ©Max Colson

The audacity of turning a vast bombsite into a Utopian experiment in communal living with the most exacting and rigorous architectural purity is still something we should salute the City of London Corporation for doing back in the forward looking 1960’s. I doubt that such a gargantuan and controversial scheme would get the green light now. And only now, fifty years later can we really appreciate what a spectacular job they did. It gets better and better as we get used to it.

Lush planting in the Barbican conservatory ©Max Colson

With cinemas and theatres, a library and a conservatory private gardens and public squares, lakes and promenades, it is a town within the city, an oasis of order amid the architectural cacophony all around. There are more than two thousand apartments, in a huge range of configurations, but all with a uniform aesthetic, wonderful light and views and exemplary detailing.

Lakeside Terrace at the Barbican ©Max Colson

We chose to be as high as possible in one of the three iconic towers, those jagged giants, which puncture the skyline so dramatically. Partly because of the spectacular views they afford, but also because they represent the Barbican at it most uncompromising and unapologetic. This is high-rise, high-density urban living at its most extreme. It is civilised and cultured, beautiful if brutal and still feels thoroughly modern fifty years later.

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