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Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Barbican, beautiful, bleak

My friend was a little bit late to meet me and so I found myself with some time to 'explore Barbican architecture'. I found myself wondering whether the Barbican was beautiful or bleak in the grey rain. The housing estate which surrounds it and the centre itself is a complex of towering layers of concrete, fountains, water features which all enclose. High walks, stairwells and sheltered passageways all confuse your sense of direction. If it is not beautiful, it is certainly impressive.

Wikipedia tells me that the centre was designed by Chamberlain, Powell and Bon in the Brutalist style. Brutalism emerged in 50's and 60's and took its name from the French Beton Brut or 'raw concrete'. The Barbican is 'raw concrete', testament to a time when concrete inspired awe and wasn't the symbol of Post-War hopes degrading to bleak council estates. The Barbican is built in an area which was badly bombed during the Second World War and is a solid attempt at regeneration. I think my sense is more that it was beautiful once. Now housing the YMCA and London flats it feels entirely at odds with the wet, wet water gardens and aquatic plant-life.



5 comments:

  1. Brutalism - lots of that in Canada. Good post.

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  2. Agreed about Brutalism in Canada. I've yet to any new architecture that isn't like a big cement blob. Or an oversized glass house. They provoke the same cultural essences as parking lots.

    I wish we'd just start building Romanesque buildings like we did with banks, exchange centers, and museums last century.

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  3. I'm a Barbican member and did the Architecture tour last August. I really enjoyed it - it was just me and one of the Barbican interns showing me around. As we were talking, a resident approached us and invited us into his flat.

    As you say, it's not beautiful by any means, but there is a kind of beauty in its ugliness (if that makes sense).

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  4. I love the Barbican Concert Hall - the acoustics are terrific and you can see easily from just about anywhere. In the summer,the Terrace is also great, just to sit, have a coffee and .... maybe contemplate - - however, in my opinion, 'inside' the Barbican is rather ugly and user-unfriendly and it's pretty easy to get lost - but I still enjoy going there.

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