Tuesday, 22 January 2013
The Barbican architectural tour
Just before it snowed, last week in London, it was bloody freezing here – not an obvious day to do a one-and-a-half-hour walk around the Barbican. Outdoors. But the fact that I did only illustrates both the size of my love for beautiful buildings, as well as the joy of having an even nerdier friend to share the love.
Abi Zakarian has appeared here before, and now she is joining the site as a contributing editor. Hurrah - and welcome Abi. She kicks off with the highlights of that freezing cold day...
The project took from 1965 to 1976 to complete, with the arts complex opening in 1982, and it's a triumph of the Corbusier Unité d'Habitation style without actually being pure Brutalist – a term coined by architects Alison and Peter Smithson in 1953 inspired by Corbusier's phrase 'béton brut' ('raw concrete'), which he used to describe the poured and board-pressed concrete with which he constructed many of his buildings; resulting in the concrete having the look of a plank of wood – go to the National Theatre in London's Southbank and take a close look at the walls to see an excellent example of this (although this building was designed by the British granddaddy of Brutalism, Denys Lasdun). The Barbican offers a slightly softer version of Brutalism thanks to the architects using not just (much plainer, unwoody) concrete but brickwork, white tiling and the aforementioned curves everywhere.
Meant to house workers from all walks of life (not quite as socially inclusive as we'd like to think though – the housing committee ran a grading system to ascertain where you could live; civil servants were only allowed to apply for the smallest flats, apparently) and provide them with a 'walled' city in which all their needs were taken care of. Sadly, the shops never materialised, the on site schools are fee-paying and the exclusivity of the original entry requirements meant it's ended up as largely second-home, crash-pad, rich mens residences.
Now Grade II listed the Barbican is a glorious icon of London, in all it's mid-century splendour. Our tour ended with a special mention for the bonkers optical illusion loos and we left loving this behemoth of concrete just a bit little more than before.
Tours run until March 31st. Tickets £8. Find out more and book at the Barbican website.
Read more posts about the Barbican, including some enviable interiors.