Chamberlin Powell & Bon
- Original design
- Chamberlin Powell & Bon, 1963
The Barbican estate is built on an area of land that has had the name ‘barbican’ for over 2000 years. The word ‘Barbican’ comes from a Latin word, barbicana, meaning ‘Bastion’ or ‘fortified outpost’ and it was this that occupied the space in the Roman city of Londinium.
This area known as Barbican covers around 40 acres, 35 of which hold the present-day estate. We are right on the very edge of the City of London, City meaning the area surrounded by the Roman London Wall which traditionally had been an area for outsiders and the less respectable members of society.
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, 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. Its design is also hated and loved in equal measure.
The Barbican sits on top of the Circle Line train. The underground is suspended in rubber to minimise the noise to the Barbican.
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.
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.
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.
The rough concrete around the Centre was done by hand-held drills, even on the tower balcony exteriors.
The Barbican’s lorry lift is able to carry up to 40 tonnes down into the bowels of the Theatre.
Barbican Centre is the largest performing multi-arts centre in Europe. The includes the 1,949 person capacity Hall, the 1,166 capacity Theatre (designed exclusively for the Royal Shakespeare Company), the 200 seat Pit, 3 cinema screens, the Barbican Library, 3 restaurants, 2 trade exhibition halls, and many more informal performance venues.
On 29th December 1940, a night sometimes known as the Second Great Fire of London, 64 000 incendiary devices were dropped over the City, cutting a huge swathe of destruction from St Paul’s to Islington. This entire site was bombed, 35 acres, from Moorgate to Aldersgate Street.
In 1951, the population of the City of London numbered 5342, with 48 people living on this 35 acre site.
And so, in 1952 discussions began about what should be built on this site, and on 19th September 1957 the Court of Common Council (in other words the central decision-making body of the Corporation of London) agreed to build residential premises on this site.
The Barbican Architects are Chamberlin, Powell and Bon, who won the contract following on from the groundbreaking success of the Golden Lane estate. Golden Lane was built between 1952-1962, the first residents arriving in 1957.
Built between 1963-1976, the Barbican Estate currently houses over 4000 people in 2014 flats, just under half the resident population of the City of London.