I donâ€™t think any other building has so often reduced me to such fury as the Barbican Centre. Like everybody else, I have got lost there while trying to get to a concert or film. I have felt baffled by its layers, its incomprehensible entrances and exits, the way you can stand on one level and see where you want to go but only get there by going up and down and around. The yellow lines painted on the floor, while satisfying as an open admission that the place is unintelligible to visitors, donâ€™t actually work as guides. Nor have I ever felt any affection for the Barbican Estate at large. The towers seem savage assertions over the city, even now they have been overtaken in height. The rough concrete is rebarbative, the lack of any street plan confounding. The walk through subterranean Beech Street, to get to the main entrance of the arts centre from Barbican Tube station, is one of the most demoralising transits in London. In its way, the extreme bad temper I have been overcome by almost every time I have been to the Barbican Centre is proof positive of the power of architecture. The responsibilities of architects are different from those of practitioners in the other arts. Iâ€™ve often ended up vengefully wishing the architects of the Barbican had been compelled to spend the rest of their lives in the stocks, right there on site, for all of us to admonish.
instead these architects are being celebrated in a new book Chamberlin Powell Bon by Elain Harwood published jointly by English Heritage RIBA and the Twentieth Century Society It is a wellillustrated unvaingly admiring monograph funded by the children of one of these architects Geoffrey Powell Piers Gough provides an itrduction hailing the Barb can as the greatest piece of combined urban planning and architecture in Briain in the th century caling its ctre around the lake still the most spectacular made plic or prvate space in London ling the sheer physical joy to be found in its combination of long horiztal buildings with tall vertical one Harwood an historian with English Heritage who specaies in postwar English architture is particularly comitted to Brutalism the style of moderist formfollowsfunction archteture inspired by Le Corbusier that takes its name from the French phrase beton brut referring to the raw concrete used in buildings and contributed to the campaign that got the Babican listed in
Harwood, an historian with English Heritage who specialises in post-war English architecture, is particularly committed to Brutalism (the style of modernist, form-follows-function architecture inspired by Le Corbusier that takes its name from the French phrase “beton brut”, referring to the “raw concrete” used in buildings) and contributed to the campaign that got the Barbican listed in 2002. We meet outside Barbican station. She’s chirpy, cheerfully dressed, somehow quite art-schooly still. She is accompanied by John McLean, a Scottish-born artist, now in his seventies, who also campaigns for the recognition and conservation of the estate, having, with his wife, downsized to a Barbican flat from a Victorian house in Clapham. He and Harwood share total enthusiasm for the Barbican, finding fault only where the original design has been tampered with or wasn’t fully implemented in the first place. They deplore the expansion of the City of London School for Girls beyond its original bounds; they lament that the lifts aren’t original; they don’t like it when the concrete has been painted. McLean doesn’t even favour a plan by the City Corporation to prettify the place with some new planters (“it doesn’t need anything added”). As soon as he unlocks the gates that let us into the parts of the estate reserved for residents and we walk through a sunken square planted with now mature trees selected by Powell - McLean punctiliously points out one that’s been added more recently as a memorial - I get a better sense of why the Barbican has such a strong appeal to so many people. Once you are inside, the way it seems positively to repel arrivals from outside ceases to matter and it reveals itself as a complete world. When I ask Harwood where she puts the Barbican in the ranks of Brutalist architecture, she immediately says: “It’s at the top, isn’t it? Because nowhere else does it so convincingly all the way through.” The Barbican is indeed for those who, for whatever reason, rejoice in living in a systematically designed