The Barbican: A City within a City

Photo by Deanna Harrison

My first trip to the Barbican was in February last year, and since then it has become one of my favourite places in the city. I was amazed by the architecture; the layers upon layers of flats all with flowers cascading from their balconies, where the inhabitants have a full view of the lake at the centre of the estate. After deciphering a maze of hidden entrances, overhead walkways and dead ends, you can expect to see one of London’s most remarkable housing projects. On-site you can find art galleries, a theatre, restaurants, a church, parks, schools and even a dentist. The Barbican has its own ecosystem: a city within a city. 

During the Second World War, London had been damaged significantly by almost a year of bombing, commonly referred to as the Blitz. The area surrounding Cripplegate and St Giles Church had been virtually destroyed and discussions began soon after about what should be built in the area. Architects Chamberlin, Powell and Bon aimed to revolutionise London’s urban landscape. Their ideas produced a brutalist, utopian housing estate that prioritised the quality of life of its residents. Every amenity is less than a ten-minute walk away for those that live there. This closeness was intended to create a sense of community for young workers as well as attracting them back to a city centre demolished by war. Today, the Barbican remains a hub of culture, art and community.

It is commonly thought that the Barbican was once a council estate. However, the flats here were never intended for the working class. According to the website, the architects themselves stated that the target demographic was young, middle-class professionals, who enjoyed French food and holidays in the Mediterranean. The designs of the flats were even left minimalist in order to satisfy the middle class’s need for ‘consumerist self-expression’ as Logan Nash puts it. His research article ‘Constructing Gentrification at London’s Barbican estate’ highlights how the Barbican is an example of early gentrification ideals within London. It was once a place where the typical worker would live, but, with the ‘Right to Buy’ scheme being introduced in 1980, a majority of the flats became privately owned. Today, according to the Guardian, penthouses here can go for up to £4 million. 

So, the chances of actually living at the Barbican may be out of reach. However, there are plenty of cheaper things to do. One popular activity which has been circulating online is a free visit to the Barbican Conservatory. It currently has 1,500 species of plants and is the second largest conservatory in London. There are new and innovative art exhibitions, theatre performances, a cinema, creative courses, a library as well as a reasonably priced café which is a great study spot. It’s even worth heading there for a simple walk around to explore an area of London that often feels other-worldly. 


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