The Barbican is not only a unique part of the London, it is a source of inspiration for artists and architects – and more recently, a competition-winning drawing.
Strong impressions are generated by the Barbican, whether it’s onsite or from photographs – in this case, the work of photographer John Maltby from the RIBA’s collections. Chamberlin, Powell and Bon’s use of horizontal and vertical blocks and the interweaving of walkways and landscaping on different levels have created distinct monumental forms. Maltby’s striking image was chosen by RIBA curators for display at the recent Sketch in the City drawing workshop.
The curved balconies protruding from the vertical elements of the residential towers give the Barbican a recognisable silhouette on the skyline of London. It is no surprise then that the winner of the drawing competition held during Sketch in the City was inspired by the projecting balconies of Cromwell Tower. Subtly deforming the existing linear arrangement, student Elif Ergisi has rotated and curved the stack of balconies to create something akin to a spinal cord. Today we want to take time to congratulate Elif, but also to remind ourselves what underappreciated architects such as Chamberlin, Powell and Bon can achieve in difficult situations.
The Barbican: Celebrating 30 years
“…it was resoundingly at Barbican that Chamberlin, Powell and Bon’s depth and range of vision in planning, design and detailing were consummately realised.” (Harwood, p. 130)
This year the Barbican is 30-years old. It was born out of traumatic historic events and the intellectual energy of a team of architects. There was the destruction of much of the area’s previous buildings during World War Two, followed by the long building project afterwards that created a residential and cultural centre in a predominantly commercial part of London. CP&B formulated a considered plan – largely adhered to – to build high-density residential flats around courtyards and lakes, whilst incorporating cultural and educational elements including exhibition spaces, a library and school. This delivered a true urban neighbourhood and offered a different way to live to the sometimes sterile suburbs and garden cities. The architects had to cope with the pressures generated from building on a high-value site, opposition and even labour strikes. Despite that, the design of the Barbican through its long gestation was conceived entirely and with a sense of unity by CP&B. Their spirit of optimism lives on in this listed and increasingly loved enclave of London.
The competition prize was a print from RIBApix. There, through images from the RIBA’s collections, you can see more of the Barbican, including visual records of its construction, what was on the site before redevelopment and the damage caused by the Blitz.
- Harwood, E., 2011. Chamberlin Powell & Bon. London: RIBA Publishing.