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In the midst of post-war Britain, London was desperately trying to recover from the horror of ‘The Blitz’. From the wreckage, a new form of modernist architecture arose- Brutalism, distinguished by its harsh geometric repetition and textured concrete materiality. Potentially the most infamous building to be birthed from this movement is the Barbican Centre; a grade II listed building situated in the heart of London that houses an array of performing arts. The Barbican Centre was built in conjunction with the Barbican Estate, which contains 2014 flats; combining to form the Barbican Complex, designed by architects Peter Chamberlain, Christof Bon and Geoffrey Powell. The initial ideology of the Complex was to create an attempt of a Utopian living space, which would bring social integration of the arts and help re-build a sense of community in a recovering London. Due to the economic state of post-war Britain, though the Estate had been opened in 1969, funding for a performing arts centre was much harder to come by, thus construction did not officially start until 1971. After £156 million, equivalent to £500 million in today’s society, and over a decade of interrupted construction, the Barbican centre was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1982. Over the next 40 years the Barbican Centre has undergone a series modernisation projects to help it remain a prominent figure in the contemporary art world, primarily in 1994, 2001 and 2006. The Barbican Centre continues to split critics, a true example of a ‘marmite’ building, the centre has been deemed as both ‘The ugliest building in London’ and a ‘one of the modern wonders of the world’. But, no matter of your opinion on the bold nature of Brutalism, it’s impossible to deny the beauty of the ground breaking nature of its sheer magnitude, open space and complex geometric architecture within the Barbican Centre.

Top left - Pictures taken in 1968 of where the Barbican Centre was planned to be erected. The are distinctly less built up, when compared to what the site looks like today Top right- Queen Elizabeth II at the opening of the Barbican Centre 1982 Bottom left- Director of the Centre, Henry Wrong, Over-viewing site construction in the 70’s Bottom right- Area destroyed during WWII that would become the Barbican Centre


Top right: Here is the path we took to get to the Barbican Centre. Its central positioning and integrated high-walk system connected to Moorgate station, made it a simple and easy journey. Bottom left: This map shows how the Barbican Complex is split into different areas, as well as outlying local transport links. The red line on this map indicates the first route i took into the Barbican, the yellow line reflecting the second. The pictures show the first things i saw when i arrived.


Due to the sheer magnitude of the Barbican Centre, its air movement requires a severe amount of artificial control. The large spaces with minimal doors and windows, for example the main stage, often cause the air flow to stagnate and over-heat; without use of air-conditioning. This is due to the natural formation of a convection current- by which hot air rises due increased instability of air particles, and cooler air sinks due to dense and more stable air particles. With less cool air being brought in, when compared to the amount of hot air being produced by a large audience, the overall temperature within the current beings to rise. This creates a vicious cycle, and an incredibly unpleasant viewing experience; thus the great need for air-conditioning within the space. As seen in the bottom right-hand picture, the air-conditioning units are situated at the top of the halls. This introduces cool air that will sink down throughout the room, and subsequently ease the temperature of the room.


The ventilation system is most visible in the halls; vents seen in the diagram as dark slots in the concrete pillars. The ventilation system is fully integrated within the walls, primarily for efficiency as concrete is a reasonably cool surface, and also to conceal any ugly and distracting pipe work that would break away from the harsh brutalist form of the Barbican Centre. The ventilation is also visible from the exterior, shown in the bottom left-hand picture, the integrated nature of this system becomes more evident, as the air moves in and out directly from the wall. The Barbican Estate flats have an unusual heating system which was installed when the building was first constructed in the 1960s. Under-floor heating is provided via electric cables embedded in the solid concrete floors. Between October and April, the heating is switched on at two periods during the day; the rest of the time it is switched off so cons e r v e e n e r g y . Here are the original plans for the heating in the Barbican Estate. The red arrows indicate how the warm air would rise and consequentially heat the rest of the room. 5

Left: This diagram outline the flow of cold air brought into the main hall via the main doors on the SW side of the building. Right: A cross section through the concert hall and main hall, outlining the movement of hot and cold air through the building.


The incredibly size of the Barbican Centre means that it creates a large blockade for external air to pass around. The high walk system and open passages through the building create extensive wind tunnels that pass into the central courtyard. This sketch attempts to map the movement of prevailing wind around the facade of the building.


Light is an integral part of a buildings aesthetic, thus its positioning in regards to the sun is highly important. These diagrams outline the movement of the sun around the Barbican, and rays of the sun projected over the Barbican at different times of day.








Light within the main hall at different times of day: 1—11:30 2—-12:30 3—15:30 I find the fact that most natural light does not enter the Barbican fully until late afternoon interesting. The vast space of the main hall, though one wall filled with windows, is hardly touched by the light; relying almost entirely upon artificial lighting. It’s only when you travel up into the higher floors that you begin to appreciate the natural light coming in. The library space was immersed in light, leaving a sense of openness and ease in the surroundings; almost breaking from its brutalist form. I found the shadowing created on the textures concrete on the walls particularly fascinating, as it gave the walls an almost organic and softer feel. Here are some original plans for the Barbican, depicting different shadows at different times of the day during the equinox. Firstly at 9am, then 12pm and 3pm.


Artificial lighting within the Barbican is incredibly interesting. Due to the sheer scale of the building, many areas do not have access to natural light, therefore relying on artificial lighting. There is little running theme when it comes to types of lights throughout the building, ranging in brightness and in modernism. The moods created in different rooms are quite distinguishable, for example the bright and clean light within the toilets, compared to the dim and seductive lights within on the many bars. This range of lighting brings a range of atmospheres to rooms that are textually very similar, assimilating the power of light as a design tool.

This sketch outlines the ceiling plan in a segment of the main hall. It also shows light metre readings, illustrating the fact that the high control of lighting within the Barbican creates a reasonably even level of light.


Externally speaking, the north facing exterior high-walk was not designed to see direct sunlight. However, with new modernist buildings emerging in the surrounding area, reflections from glass create a rather incredible reflection across the brick plain. This particularly interested me in the fact that it shows site context to the Barbican, and how its surroundings can have a visible effect on the external aesthetic. Here shows the movement of the sun over the Barbican, outlining both equinoxes, signifying the highest and lowest points of midday sun the Barbican will encounter this year.


This map outlines the different variations of soil types across London. Beneath the Barbican estate, it is visible that the ground is largely acidic. What is not shown, however, is the fact that the soil is also largely made up of clay.


The diagram to the right outlines existing sewers and underground services at the time of construction. Due to weak local soil, foundations for the Barbican had to run rather deep, but the ground was already incredibly crowded. This meant that foundations had to be carefully placed as to not affect existing infrastructure, but also incredibly strong to support this monumental building. For this, under-reamed board piling was used to support the structure. Up to 18m deep, these foundations are constructed of concrete and steel, with a barbell at the bottom to increase stability. The site was also largely 10m below the level adjoining roads, meaning the site had to be levelled- using concrete and debris to form a flat ground.


Materiality within the Barbican is incredibly short ranged. Due to its harsh Brutalist design, it follows the classic ideology of concrete- lots and lots of concrete. There are of course pockets of variation, such as brick work in the outside gardens, and carpeted indoor flooring; but none the less, concrete is the most memorable and unavoidable material within the Barbican Centre. Being an entirely manufactured material, it is hard to decipher where the Barbican’s concrete originated from. Concrete is formed from aggregates (60-70%) that are sourced from quarries, additives that chemically enhance the nature of the concrete, water that provides a catalyst to the chemical reaction, and cement that provides resistance.


The most prominent use of water within the Barbican is its oddly stunning courtyard, featuring a large pond, water fountains and a submerged garden. This space not only creates a sense of community within the residents, but also distracts from the garish Brutalist form of the rest of the building. It introduces a sense of openness, flow and tranquillity into an otherwise harsh space. The light trickle of the fountains and slow movement of water in the pond establishes a calm public space, where both residents and visitors alike can relax and meet. The water also invokes the migration of certain birds into the court, adding to the atmosphere of serene flow.


The first diagram outlines suction mains and collection points of the Garchery refuse system within the Barbican, and the second diagram outlines the elevation of this system. Household waste is mixed with water and is forced by gravity into the Garchery collection chamber, where the remaining water is removed and the waste exported. I found this use of water within the Barbican particularly interesting, especially seeing as it improves on the classic dry-pipe disposal unit, as the water ensures that the pipes remain clear and much cleaner.


The extensive high walks of the Barbican centre presented a subtle design aspect with regards to water. Due to the enclosed tiles of the walks, drainage of rain water would swiftly gather without careful drainage. The ground is cambered very slightly, as to direct water into the appropriate drain; a system that keeps the space from gathering water without being largely noticeable. The only problem with this method, is the leftover residue that litters the open pathways, making the tiles look dirty and unkempt.


As one of the world’s leading performance centres, the Barbican attracts over 1.4 million visitors and hosts over 3000 events each year. This vibrant and iconic building therefore requires massive amounts of energy to sustain such a hectic schedule. This energy performance rating, taken in 2011, shows that the Barbican is a grade C energy efficient building, with a rating of 73 in efficiency, where 100 would be expected of a building its size. Typical energy usage for heating is approximately 233 kWh m2 per year, and 101 kWh m2 per year. Heating is sourced from district heating, and the building uses no renewable energy sources. As outlined previously, the main sources of heat within the estate come from under floor heating, and cooling is provided throughout the centre with integrated air-conditioning.

The first diagram outlines total Co2 emissions in tonnes exerted from the Barbican over the course of a year. The second diagram outlines the improvement in energy efficiency that the Barbican has undergone in recent years. Being nominated for for the Best Green International Business award during the 2011 International Green Awards, winning the Green apple award in 2010 and the Green Hero award in 2011; stands testament to the Barbicans strive for sustainability and efficiency.


2003– 2010 Change in Nitrogen dioide levels over London.

2003– 2010 Change in annual mean of PM 10 particulates in London air

As the London community came together, including the help of the Barbican, it is clear to see that pollution in the area has dramatically decreased. This is due to many ventures, including council enforced ideas such at congestion charge zones, but also through the hard work of large buildings to conserve energy. 19

One largely noticeable aspect of the Barbican is the amont of greenery around. Not only does this provide a soft and organic layer to harsh concrete, but also helps lower pollution. These plants form a small carbon sink, and by the process of photosynthesis convert carbon dioxide (a green house gas) into oxygen.


The Barbicans recycling schemes are internationally recognised as some of the best, winning the Chairman’s cup for its excellence. As one of UK’s leading event centre, The Barbican’s commitment to improve its waste management practices was demonstrated through direct investment in recycling facilities for the public and the implementation of new recycling initiatives. Mindful of the millions of visitors received yearly and the amount of waste generated as a result, they have introduced recycling bins in their public foyers to encourage members of the public to recycle their waste. They have also introduced a comprehensive food waste composting programme involving all their catering partners which allows them to compost 100% of their food waste. To further minimise their waste, a “Bin the Bin” policy to their level 6 offices resulting in the removal of desk-side bins and the provision of central recycling stations within the office was introduced. They promote environmental awareness among their contractors, cli-

ents and visitors by communicating their sustainable policies to contractors through contract specifications. There are also many other internal recycling operations in progress: Mobile phones are recycled through Oxfam and Guide Dogs for the Blind; Fluorescent lighting tubes are crushed onsite using a special machine that allows the extraction of the recyclable material; Postage stamps are sent to the British Kidney Association; Lever Arch files and wood etc are sent to the Hackney School scrap project; Lost Property is passed on to the Shelter Charity; Computers are recycled via Chiltern Electronics; Plastic milk bottle tops benefit the Naomi House Children’s Hospice; Copper, 12 volt Batteries, cooking oil, catering glass and toner cartridges are also recycled on site.


This diagram outlines the specific places that waste is recycled on site.


Air: The stylised nature of brutalism has ensured that air temperature with the barbican has to be artificially controlled; this is done so almost entirely by an integrated air-conditioning and heating system. The facade of the building also creates an interesting wind tunnel through the central courtyard.

Light: The size of the Barbican ensures that most natural light does not enter the building until late afternoon, thus the internal spaces rely heavily upon a wide range of artificial lighting. Externally there are particularly interesting light patterned reflected from more contemporary buildings.

Earth: The land that the Barbican sits upon is made up largely of clay, meaning that under-reamed board piling was used to support the foundations. Also, following the nature of Brutalism, the building is comprised primarily of concrete.

Water: The most prominent use of water within the Barbican is its large integrated pond in the central courtyard. Other interesting ways in which the building uses water is within its internal Garchery system and highwalk drainage design.

Energy: The Barbican has a an energy efficiency rating 0f 73, which is impressive for a building of its size, but un fortunately does not use any renewable energy sources. The building does however have an abundance of greenery within its walls, that generate cleaner air within the micro-climate.

Recycle: The Barbican is dedicated to recycling and developing a more eco-friendly building, and has won many awards for its efforts. Many unusual items can be recycled on-site, including fluorescent lighting tubes and batteries.


When I first encountered the Barbican centre, my initial thoughts were that of distaste; as quite frankly I found the brutalist design incredibly ugly. But, after experiencing the building a number of other times, and scrutinizing its every aspect and purpose if design, I began to appreciate its underlying beauty. Beauty not necessarily found in obvious places, for example, the light experienced during the late afternoon as it fills the second floor library, or its hearty dedicated to charitable sustainably.

The Barbican is building that has adapted over the decades, continuously modernizing and retaining its reputation in the artistic stage. I only hope that in the future the centre can continue its successful adaption, and strive even further to reduce to environmental impacts, potentially integrating more renewable energy sources into its consumption. This could be done very simply by installing solar panels onto the buildings large area of rooftops.


Barbican Centre  

Sarah Gosney-Davies