Barbican, London: Case Study

The Barbican


General outline

Extensive damage in the Cripplegate area led to discussions over redevelopment. In 1957 the courts ruled that this would be a residential development.
The development was designed for city professionals and opened officially in 1969. The brutalist architecture was that of Chamberlain, Powell and Bon and has become a icon of the London skyscape.


‘The intention underlying the design was to create a coherent residential precinct - a convenient and pleasant environment affording residents the opportunity to move freely around enjoying constantly changing perspectives of terraces, lawns, trees and flowers against the background of buildings or reflected in the lake.
Many of the terrace blocks are raised on columns, a device employed to give continuity between different parts of the layout and to avoid what may otherwise have been, in a high density development, blunt and oppressive enclosures by buildings forbidding in scale.
The whole Estate has been designed to resemble a small walled town which helps provide both privacy and protection from noise.
To offset the high cost of land there is a very dense concentration of buildings. The Barbican development has a total of 2,018 flats however there is still a considerable sense of openness due to the skilful use of space. If one takes into account the various levels of car park space, the podium area, the gardens and the building space itself, the total pedestrian area of the Barbican is nearly twice the actual size of the site.1

The estate

The residential estate consists of 13 terrace blocks, grouped around the lake and green squares within the complex. The main buildings rise for up to seven floors above a podium level, which links all the facilities in the Barbican, providing a pedestrian route above street level. Some maisonettes are built into the podium structure. There is no vehicular access within the estate, but there are some car parks at the periphery of the estate. Public car parks are located within the Barbican centre. The estate also contains three of London's tallest residential towers, at 42 storeys and 123 metres high. The top two floors comprise one penthouse flat. The towers are (east to west):


It also contains, or is adjacent to, the Barbican Arts Centre, the Museum of London, the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, the Barbican public library, the City of London School for Girls and a YMCA, forming the Barbican Complex. With the exception of Milton Court, which contained a fire station, medical facilities and some flats, the complex has been Grade II listed as a whole.

Three bedroom apartment


Studio plan


Public space provision


Social Relations on the Estate

A Resident's Perspective


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The Barbican Estate offers many nodes for interaction between residents, yet it was described as the ‘ultimate anonymous estate’ by our guide, resident 'D'. ‘D’ claimed to know none of his adjacent neighbours, and only five other residents throughout, which were known because of outside interactions. Perhaps this is due to the lifestyle of ‘D’, or perhaps it is a reflection on the affluent inhabitants who can afford social lives primarily external to their place of residence, and return home to escape from social interaction. There is the possibility that a different resident would make more use of the facilities offered by the Barbican Estate, but from what we have heard from 'D', and seen for ourselves on various visits, the facilities and large areas of public space seem mostly unused.

In contrast the social relations of resident 'C' of the Heygate Estate in Elephant and Castle, is grounded within the estate, and extensive within it. The circumstances of 'C' and 'D' differ dramatically, which will contribute to the variation. See case study on Heygate Estate for more information.

See also

Ensemble of Social Relations
Heygate Estate, Elephant & Castle
Donnybrook Quarter
Lansdowne Estate, Sheffield

External links

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