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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

The Barbican

Originally published on Photoblog by Gethin Thomas November. 14, 2020

The Barbican is an area of London and a property development in the Brutalist style. Yes, more Brutalism.

This is the Underground Station called Barbican, which is how you get to the Barbican. Alternatively you can go to Moorgate the other side of The Barbican and come in that way. But this is really the proper, impressive front door and it's easier to remember as that is where you are going. Some Underground stations are useful in that respect, they tell you what is upstairs in the name. Like Covent Garden Underground leading upwards to Covent Garden. The first thing you notice is that the Barbican Underground Station isn't.

Underground that is. Quite a few Underground stations are above ground in fact. After you get over your disappointment of arriving not Underground there is a plus side, you can immediately see the awe inspiring or alarming looking Barbican towers looming on or adorning the skyline, depending on your feelings about Brutalism.

The Barbican Estate is a residential complex of around 2,000 flats, maisonettes, and houses within the City of London in Central London, in an area once devastated by World War II bombings and densely populated by financial institutions. Originally built as rental housing for middle and upper-middle class professionals, it remains to this day an upmarket residential estate. It contains, or is adjacent to, the Barbican Arts Centre, the Museum of London, the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, the Barbican public library, and the City of London School for Girls, forming the Barbican Complex. The Barbican Complex is a prominent example of British brutalist architecture and is Grade II listed as a whole.

The main fort of Roman London was built between 90 and 120 AD southeast of where the Museum of London now stands at the corner of London Wall and Aldersgate Street. Around 200 AD walls were built around the city that incorporated the old fort, which became a grand entrance known as Cripplegate. The word barbican comes from the Low Latin word Barbecana which referred to a fortified outpost or gateway, such as an outer defence of a city or castle or any tower situated over a gate or bridge which was used for defence purposes.

29th December 1940. In a single night of incendiary bombing, every street from Moorgate to Aldersgate Street, covering thirty five acres, was destroyed. St Giles Cripplegate was burnt out, with only the walls and tower remaining standing. By the end of the war, the area of devastation in the City included a much wider area to the south and east of Barbican itself. (

Discussions began in 1952 about the future of the site, and the decision to build new residential properties was taken by the Court of Common Council on 19 September 1957. To accommodate the estate, 500 metres (550 yards) of the Metropolitan line was realigned between Barbican and Moorgate stations between 1963 and 1965.

The estate was built between 1965 and 1976, and the complex was designed by architects Chamberlin, Powell and Bon. It was designed and built for affluent City professionals and their families, with all flats let out at commercial rents by the Corporation of London. Indeed, in its early years, a substantial number of high-profile politicians, lawyers, judges, and bankers made their home here.

The Barbican was never 'council housing' in the conventional sense, as flats were targeted at professionals and let at 'market' rents, i.e. for similar prices to equivalent private homes in Central London. It was, however, owned and managed by the Corporation of the City of London, considered a local authority under the 1980 Housing Act. This meant that Right to Buy legislation applied to it, and, as a result, almost all flats are now privately owned, although a few continue to be let out by the City of London at market (non-subsidised) rents.

The flats reflect the widespread use in Britain in the 1960s and 1970s of concrete as the visible face of the building. The complex is also characteristic for its total separation of motor vehicles from pedestrians throughout the area. This is achieved through the use of 'highwalks' - walkways of varying width and shape, usually located 1-3 stories above the surrounding ground level. Most pedestrian circulation takes place on these highwalks, while roads and car parking spaces are relegated to the lower level.

The complex is architecturally important as it is one of London's principal examples of concrete brutalist architecture and considered a landmark. Various garden features punctuate the brutalist architecture, including a community-run wildlife garden.

The estate also contains three of London's tallest residential towers, at 42 storeys and 123 metres (404 ft) high. The top two or three floors of each block comprise three penthouse flats.

In popular culture

The Barbican features in Michael Paraskos's novel In Search of Sixpence as the home of the lead character, Geroud, and also a bar called "The Gin Bar" loosely based on the Gin Joint bar at the Barbican Centre.

The final scene of the 1983 vampire film, The Hunger directed by Tony Scott and starring David Bowie, Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon, was filmed in the Cromwell Tower at the Barbican.

The Barbican towers can be seen in a sequence from the 1975 Disney film One of Our Dinosaurs is Missing, an unintentional anachronism for a film set in the 1920s.

The Barbican was also used to represent the MI6 headquarters in the James Bond film Quantum of Solace.

Various shots of the Barbican towers are shown on the inner record cover of the 1979 album "Real to Real Cacophony" by the Scottish rock band Simple Minds.

The Barbican is the setting for UK Grime Artist Skepta's 2015 music video for 'Shutdown'.

The estate is the setting of Dua Lipa's music video for her 2016 song Blow Your Mind (Mwah).

The Barbican Estate is mentioned by name in the intro to English band Saint Etienne's song 'Language Lab', from their 2002 Finisterre album.

The titular skyscraper in J.G. Ballard's High Rise (and subsequent film) is largely inspired by the Barbican Estate's towers.

If you want to live 42 floors up in the London skyline in a Barbican Penthouse, you need to remember first that there are only 9 existing in total. So you may have a bit of a wait until one comes on the market. The last one to come up for sale was priced at 4 million pounds, that's for three bedrooms. You do get use of the communal garden thrown in though.

The remains of St Giles Cripplegate in the background.

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