Friday, August 26, 2016

The Barbican Estate

After the otherworldly experience of the Barbican Conservatory, I emerged into the incredible Barbican Estate. I'm really glad that Laura and I took some time to explore the Estate, because it acted as a very much needed buffer between the peace of being surrounded by plants, and going back into the London bustle.

The Barbican Estate is a Brutalist masterpiece, a residential estate built during the 1960s and 1970s on a plot that had been decimated by bombing during the Second World War. It also stands on the site of a former Roman fort or Barbecana, from which it gets its name. It was designed by the modernist architectural firm Chamberlin, Powell and Bon, and is now a Listed Building. It also contains the Barbican Centre, an arts and theatre venue.

The Barbican Estate is a mixture of tower blocks, terrace blocks, mews and courts, arranged around central green spaces and and a lake.

There are no roads within the residential parts of the Estate, and the entire Estate is built on a podium level which elevates the buildings above street level,. This means that it is amazingly quiet and peaceful for its location.

As with the Barbican Conservatory, there is a slightly otherworldly feel to the place as a result of the unusual juxtapositions it provides. 

There's a strange contrast between the stark modernist architecture and the signs of normal, everyday domesticity such as washing hanging on a line or plants growing on a balcony. It's a rather heartwarming contrast though. I liked seeing that almost every residence seemed to have plants growing outside. It's considered very desirable to live in the Barbican Estate (and it is also very expensive!), and it seemed like the residents really enjoyed and appreciated living here.

I was fascinated by the semi submerged, circular gardens in the lake, which can only be accessed by residents. They look part sci-fi and part magical, like somewhere a futuristic mage would study plant magic.

The Barbican Estate felt almost utopian in some ways. There is space to live, space to play and relax, no busy roads or noisy vehicles infringing on the peace, and culture on the doorstep in the form of the Barbican Centre and the Museum of London. Every side of each of the buildings seems to have an interesting view, and the buildings themselves are very striking to look at. And then at the centre there is the beautiful lake, which even had a moorhen nesting at the edge of it when we visited.

The Barbican Estate is enchanting, in part because it is so contradictory. It's a 1960s modernist building that manages to be beautiful and innovative, and far from the flimsy, boxy nightmares most people associate with 1960s architecture. It's in London yet is peaceful. It is a Brutalist, concrete structure with an ethereal looking lake at the centre, complete with resident moorhen. But it's also enchanting because it's an example of excellent design. Design that really considers how people live, and how space can be used effectively, and how quality of life can be improved. And on top of that, it's a wonderful place to explore, even if you don't live there. My visit to the Barbican Estate was inspiring and thought provoking, and there aren't many housing estates I could say that about.


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