The Barbican is not just one thing. It’s architecture, it’s film, it’s music, it’s wining and dining, it’s performance, it’s dance, it’s art. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that any aspect of the cultural arts you can identify is, or has been, showcased by the centre at some point. So, whether you are on the hunt for a hit of imaginative artistry, inspiration to refresh your perception of the arts, or just a funky day out, the Barbican will most definitely fit the bill.
Let’s start from the outside and work our way in; there is no way that you can miss the Barbican Estate upon your arrival to Silk Street. As an eerily enticing and enchanting example of Brutalist architecture, the Barbican Complex was opened in 1969 and stands as the structural epitome of the minimalistic and abstract movements that were emerging during the 70’s. Although its sharp lines, rigid shapes and imposing colour palette may not immediately be everybody’s cup of tea, for me, wandering the walkways of the Barbican Estate on my way into its centre allows me to wind back the clock and experience the city through the eyes of a seventies Londoner. At 40 acres, the complex exists as a micro city within its larger metropolis, and entirely immerses you within the time that it encapsulates. The grounds are almost exclusively pedestrianised, which means that it is great for wandering around without the threat of London’s aggressive motorists, and the sprawling urban backdrop paints it as the perfect subject (or setting) for photographs. As a residential area, the Barbican Estate also offers insight into the nitty gritty details of London life and, in my opinion, soberly reflects the truths of city dwelling in an uncanny yet serene manner.
As a half-way house between being in or out of doors, the Barbican Conservatory is home to exotic fish and a plethora of tropical plants and succulents which are strategically placed in order to contrast and compliment the harsh concrete of the architecture. The glass structure stands as London’s second largest conservatory and conflates the brutal urban cityscape with the thriving botanical jungle – a blend that is truly magical. Be sure to schedule your visit to the Barbican for a Sunday if you are interested in visiting the conservatory, as it is only open one day a week. But with no entrance fee, it is a no brainer.
And finally, we get to the heart of the Barbican’s public appeal: its art. It is difficult to surmise the artistry within the Barbican as any one thing or another; with plentiful diverse modes of creativity being expressed by an infinite number of artists, the installations, exhibitions and performances at the centre are ever changing. All I can recommend is that you explore with an open mind, and are prepared to have any preconceptions that you may hold to be challenged in quirky ways. With no entrance fee, the Barbican’s Level G offers a myriad of creative works free of charge, which can only intensify the appeal. From Troika’s large-scale installation Borrowed Light (a cinematic visual experience) to the Edgelands: An Audio Journey created by Seth Scott in association with Hannah Bruce & Company (an audio interactive composition), the Barbican’s free events offer a wide range of unique, avant-garde art. And at varying price ranges, the Barbican also offers workshops, theatre, music, talks, tours, and many other groovy approaches to the creative arts – many of which take a practical, hands-on approach.
In amongst all the creative explorations, you are bound to feel a bit peckish – something that the Barbican is well equipped to manage. From afternoon tea available on Sundays in the Barbican Conservatory, to happy hour at the Barbican Martini Bar, all your culinary and refreshment cravings can be cured. One of my personal favourite hangout spots is outside the Barbican Kitchen on the ground floor, beside the Barbican lakeside and fountains with a bottle of freshly squeezed lemonade. Take a mate, or a gripping read, and with the sun shining, you are set for the afternoon. And if that wasn’t convincing enough, the Barbican Kitchen is fully furnished with its very own pizza oven!
An additional bonus, if you fall within the age range of 14-25, is the Young Barbican scheme. It is free to join, and entitles you to discounted access to sensational art, entertainment, events and workshops that ingeniously push boundaries. Furthermore, as a Young Barbican member you will be eligible to discounted tickets and the Barbican’s Creative Learning Programme, which allows you to pursue any creative curiosities you may have.
And with all that going on, there really is no excuse not to pop along (the closest tube stations being Barbican, St. Paul’s or Moorgate) and get a healthy dose of creative inspiration.