Barbican Estate

This article is about architecture. For Europe's largest performing arts centre, see Barbican Centre.
Barbican Estate

A tall concrete tower, with projecting balconies on the corners, viewed from below its lowest level. It is lit from behind and above by gold-tinges late afternoon sunlight. The sky behind it is blue with thin clouds.

Lauderdale Tower in 2014
General information
Type Mixed-use development
Architectural style Brutalist
Town or city London, EC2
Country United Kingdom
Design and construction
Architecture firm Chamberlin, Powell and Bon
Structural engineer Ove Arup & Partners
Civil engineer Ove Arup & Partners
Designations Grade II listed
Official website
The Cripplegate fort can be seen at the northern edge of Roman London

The Barbican Estate is a residential estate built during the 1960s and the 1970s in the City of London, in an area once devastated by World War II bombings and today densely populated by financial institutions. It 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 (now closed),[1] forming the Barbican Complex.

The Barbican Complex is a prominent example of British brutalist architecture and is Grade II listed as a whole[2] with the exception of the late Milton Court. Milton Court once contained a fire station, medical facilities and some flats and was demolished to allow the construction of a new apartment complex which also contains additional facilities for the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.


The main fort of Roman London was built between 90 and 120 AD southeast of where the Museum of London now stands at the corner of London Wall and Aldersgate Street.[3] Around 200 AD walls were built around the city that incorporated the old fort, which became a grand entrance known as Cripplegate. The word Barbican comes from the Low Latin word 'Barbecana' which referred to a fortified outpost or gateway, such as an outer defence of a city or castle or any tower situated over a gate or bridge which was used for defence purposes.[4] In this case there seems to have been a Roman specula or watchtower[5] in front of the fort at numbers 33–35[5] on the north side of the street then called Barbican[6] (now the west end of Beech St), which was later incorporated into the fortifications north of the wall. The Normans called it the Basse-cour or Base Court,[7] synonymous with the modern word "bailey" and still applied to the outer courtyard of Hampton Court Palace.

The Base Court continued to serve a military function during the reign of Edward I, but Edward III gave it to Robert d'Ufford, 1st Earl of Suffolk[6] who made it his London home. By the 16th century it had passed to Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk. Brandon married his ward Catherine Willoughby, daughter of Maria de Salinas who had been a confidante and lady-in-waiting of Catherine of Aragon and after his death was retained by the Willoughby family. The original Base court seems to have been destroyed and the large building that replaced it was called Willoughby House, a name revived for part of the modern development.

Post-war development

Frieze recovered from Bryers and Sons building at 53 and 54 Barbican which survived wartime bombing but was demolished to make way for the redevelopment

During World War II, the City suffered serious damage and loss of life. The Cripplegate ward was virtually demolished and by 1951 the resident population of the City stood at 5,324 of whom 48 lived in Cripplegate. Discussions began in 1952 about the future of the site, and the decision to build new residential properties was taken by the Court of Common Council on 19 September 1957.[8]

The estate was built between 1965 and 1976, on a 35-acre (14 ha) site that had been bombed in World War II. The complex was designed by architects Chamberlin, Powell and Bon, whose first work was the ground-breaking Golden Lane Estate immediately north of the Barbican. The estate of 40 acres (16 ha) was officially opened in 1969 and is now home to around 4,000 people living in 2,014 flats.[8] The flats reflect the widespread use in Britain in the 1960s and 1970s of concrete as the visible face of the building.

The central public court of the Barbican, Lakeside Terrace, features a café area.

The Minister for the Arts, Tessa Blackstone, announced in September 2001 that the Barbican complex was to be Grade II listed. It has been designated a site of special architectural interest for its scale, its cohesion and the ambition of the project.[9] The complex is architecturally important as it is one of London's principal examples of concrete brutalist architecture and considered a landmark.

Blocks and towers

The residential estate consists of three tower blocks, 13 terrace blocks, two mews and The Postern, Wallside and Milton Court.[10]

The terrace blocks

Part of the estate viewed from above

These are grouped around a lake and green squares. The main buildings rise 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 terrace blocks are named:[10]

Tower blocks

The estate also contains three of London's tallest residential towers, at 42 storeys and 123 metres (404 ft) high. The top two or three floors of each block comprise three penthouse flats. The towers are (east to west):

Once the tallest residential towers in London, they were surpassed by the Pan Peninsula development on the Isle of Dogs.

Barbican towers

Barbican complex

A panorama of the Barbican complex

The Barbican Estate also contains the Barbican Centre (an arts, drama and business venue), the Barbican public library, the City of London School for Girls, the Museum of London, and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. A YMCA building was constructed between 1965 and 1971[9] to link the Barbican and Golden Lane Estate; it is also listed.

In literature

The Barbican features in Michael Paraskos's novel In Search of Sixpence as the home of the lead character, Geroud, and also a bar called 'The Gin Bar' loosely based on the Gin Joint bar at the Barbican Centre.[16]

Nearby rail and Tube

Public Transport
National Rail National Rail Liverpool Street
London Underground London Underground Liverpool Street Central line
Circle line
Hammersmith & City
Metropolitan line
Barbican Circle line
Hammersmith & City
Metropolitan line
Moorgate Northern line (city branch)
Circle line
Hammersmith & City
Metropolitan line
St. Paul's Central line
Farringdon Circle line
Hammersmith & City
Metropolitan line

See also

References and notes

  1. "Finsbury Hostel Closure". Islington Gazette. Retrieved 2 February 2012.
  2. Historic England. "Details from listed building database (1352667)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 12 June 2011.
  3. "Quarterly Review (June to August 2002) Greater London Archaeology Advisory Service" (PDF). Quarterly Review. Greater London Archaeology Advisory Service. June–August 2002. p. 30. Archived from the original (PDF) on 4 January 2009.
  5. 1 2 Britton, John. The Beauties of England and Wales, or, Delineations, topographical, historical, and descriptive, of each county, Volume 10, Part 3. Vernor and Hood. p. 216.
  6. 1 2 Strype, John (1720). "6". Survey of London. 3. Retrieved 19 March 2014.
  7. Goff, Cecilie (1930). A woman of the Tudor age. John Murray. p. 277.
  8. 1 2 "History of the Barbican Estate". City of London. Archived from the original on 7 December 2006. Retrieved 11 January 2007.
  9. 1 2 "Listing of the Barbican complex". City of London. Archived from the original on 8 October 2006. Retrieved 11 January 2007.
  10. 1 2 Jennifer Clarke (1990), The Barbican Sitting on History, Corporation of London Records Office, ISBN 9780852030301, OCLC 24713108, 0852030304
  13. "Cromwell Tower". Emporis Buildings. Retrieved 11 January 2007.
  14. "Shakespeare Tower". Emporis Buildings. Retrieved 11 January 2007.
  15. "Lauderdale Tower". Emporis Buildings. Retrieved 11 January 2007.
  16. Michael Paraskos, In Search of Sixpence (London: Friction Fiction, 2015) ISBN 9780992924782

External links

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Coordinates: 51°31′09″N 0°05′38″W / 51.51917°N 0.09389°W / 51.51917; -0.09389

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