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Jana Chovancová
September 18, 2022, 5:00pm
Reading time: 5:17

The Barbican Is London's Hidden Diamond. It Was Made Famous By Instagram, Harry Styles And Ghost Stories. The Icon Of Brutalism.

The London Barbican hosts a diverse range of art, music, theater, dance, film and other creative events. However, it also carries a few curiosities.

Jana Chovancová
September 18, 2022, 5:00pm
Reading time: 5:17
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The Barbican Is London's Hidden Diamond. It Was Made Famous By Instagram, Harry Styles And Ghost Stories. The Icon Of Brutalism.
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The Barbican is a unique architectural gem and offers a little bit of everything. In addition to art, however, it also hides various curiosities and you will learn, for example, the truth about whether its premises are haunted.


Where can you find the Barbican and what exactly is it?

The Barbican is a neighborhood that you can find just a short distance from the center of London. It is bordered by the districts of Finsbury, Golden Lane Estate and Farringdon. You can get here from the center of London on foot in about thirty minutes, but if you decide to choose a more convenient transport, there are several underground lines leading to the Barbican station.


Source: Unsplash/Paul Lievens



This district is also called a city within a city, precisely because of its size. The original plan was to build a network of elevated walkways, promenades and entrances to buildings above the entire city. They started construction, but because of the complexity of the plan, they quickly swept it under the rug. It was the Barbican that was one of the few that was completed in the planned elevated style, which confuses tourists to this day. 

The site was also once designed to house rental apartments to serve middle and upper middle class people. Before the Second World War, more than 120,000 people lived here, but that changed after the war. The number of inhabitants decreased to approximately one thousand. However, the district still offers luxury living and there are more than two thousand apartments and houses in various styles. Here you will find one-room, five-room apartments, maisonettes and studios.


Concrete wherever you look

It is interesting that the main material from which the complex is built is concrete. The theatre tower is also built from this material, but it looked unattractive to the architects. So they decided to build a conservatory, which they specially designed to cover the "concrete monstrosity", as they called the tower. At various stages of planning, many changes were in store for the Barbican, but not all of them were implemented. We can say thank goodness because some of them could have completely changed his concrete look that makes it so famous today.


Source: Unsplash/Robert Bye


Originally, the British architects Chamberlin, Powell and Bon, who designed the Barbican, thought that their project might look similar to the neighboring Golden Lane housing estate. This was dominated by colorful panels and fine details. In 1959, the architects drew up the first plans. The terrace blocks in them were covered with white marble, while the towers were covered with polished concrete. The pillars were to be covered with smooth colored concrete, and there was even a suggestion that the balconies be paved with mosaic tiles.

However, you may not be surprised that this rather lavish and expensive selection of materials was rejected by the London municipality. The result was a cheaper, albeit incredibly labor-intensive hammered concrete surface.


Beauty is in the details

For the trio of architects, it was important that the Barbican housing estate be connected to the center by visual motifs. The text played an important role. So they decided to approach typographer Herbert Spencer to design the font and signage for the entire mansion. Londoners can thank him for the visual experience. A symbol of a small castle appears in the surroundings of the settlement, which is supposed to be a representation of the Barbican. It has long been used as the headquarters logo and is still used in some places today.


Source: Unsplash/Taylor Xu


Another detail will definitely catch your eye, which is the water in the ponds, which is colored due to its shallowness. If they had left its natural coloring, you would have seen in it the reflections of the gray surrounding buildings that surround the pond. This could create a false illusion of water depth. For the same reason, you cannot swim in the lakes, because they are not deep enough for this activity. And why are they so shallow? A subway line runs directly below them, for which they could not dig the lakes deeper.


Source: Refresher/Martin Honko

A courtyard of statues... without statues?

A beautiful but somewhat unusual place in the complex is the Sculpture Courtyard. Modernisation is responsible for its current state that resembles an oasis of greenery rather than a place with statues. When the gallery was renovated to meet modern and air-conditioned standards that allow it to exhibit artworks, the connection to the outdoors was closed. Although there are no sculptures here, the premises are still occasionally used for outdoor art exhibitions. 


Haunted nights and ghosts of the dead

Several Barbican staff who work or have worked late-night shifts agree on one thing: very, very strange things happen at the complex during the night. Many have heard ghostly noises and seen unexplained objects. Some of the workers even refused to work on the -2 floor after allegedly seeing ghosts there. Conspiracies are also encouraged by the fact that the Barbican is said to be located on a site that served as a mass grave during the plague epidemic. You have to see for yourself whether the area is really haunted.


Source: Refresher/Martin Honko


What is Brutalism and why does it dominate the Barbican?

The label Brutalism comes from the description of the material used by the Swiss modernist Le Corbusier to build his housing estate in Marseille, France. The so-called "beton brut" means raw concrete, and the Barbican is also built in this style. Despite the name, which may evoke a negative emotion in you, its main idea is completely different.

It is supposed to emphasize honesty, which means that the building should not hide what it is made of or how it is designed. Followers of Brutalism saw beauty in this honesty, and for some it even became a moral or philosophical question. And also the question of money. In post-war Great Britain, it was cheaper to repair many damaged buildings with a less expensive material - concrete.

The architects of the Barbican, Chamberlin Powell and Bon, never called themselves Brutalists, despite the appearance of the district. They drew inspiration from a wide range of styles, and their project also contains several opposites.


Various events

Art, music, theater, dance or film. It offers all this and much more in its Barbican campus. The two theaters located here offer a really packed program. Performances where you will see recognized international artists, but also newcomers who want to make a name for themselves in the great competition. In addition to performances, workshops, interviews and discussions are also held in the premises.


Source: Getty Images/Judith Burrows


In the concert hall, you have the opportunity to listen to the world's best musicians of classical and contemporary music. The Barbican is also home to the London Symphony Orchestra. A rich music program offers you the best of various styles. For example, jazz, country, contemporary classics, rock, pop or even electronic music are on offer.

If you prefer to watch a movie, there are also three cinemas available. In addition to classic films, various film festivals, lectures and events are regularly organised here. 


Barbican also offers you two galleries. The main one called the Barbican Art Gallery and the smaller one called The Curve. The main gallery itself is one of the UK's leading art spaces and represents the best of international art. You will find a mixture of architecture, design, fashion and photography.

You can find the program that takes place in the Barbican on this link.


Did you know that...?

This place, for a wide variety reasons, was not always popular. It only became popular later with the beginning of the social media era. Harry Styles' music video for the song As It Was also helped it to commercial fame. In the video, the singer dances right in the premises of the Barbican. Currently, the Barbican is one of the most attractive places for tourists in London. 


Interested in what the Barbican looks like from the outside and the inside? Check out the gallery:

Source: Getty Images/John Snelling
Source: Getty Images/John Snelling
Source: Getty Images/John Snelling
Source: Getty Images/John Snelling
Source: Getty Images/John Snelling
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