The Barbican: a hidden conservatory garden amongst the concrete (Central London)


Today I turn my attention to 1960s architecture.  Not something that I can say I am passionate about.  I don’t like concrete much, although we do have a factory with a polished concrete floor (the workmen had to come back at 2am in the morning to polish it because apparently timing is key), and in its setting that works quite well.

There are other examples of modern housing estates that I admire.

There is one designed by Wilhelmson Arkitekter where the windows were made to look like baroque window frames.

There are examples in Norway (I think) where the walkways spiral to the sky, allowing residents to ride their bikes to their front door.  I saw it on a BBC programme about whether architecture needs to be beautiful but I can’t remember much more.

The Barbican is an exercise in concrete living.  Well, that’s how I see it.  The idea was to create high-rise city living built out of concrete but encompassing green spaces.   The housing sits next door to the Barbican Centre, where there is a public space, theatre, cinema and 2/3 places to eat.  Outside there are courtyards, water features and more concrete.

“The idea to build the Barbican Centre began in the 1960s as part of a utopian vision to transform an area of London left devastated by bombing during the Second World War. After years of deliberation and debate, construction of the centre finally began in 1971 based on plans drawn up by architects Chamberlain, Powell and Bon. The centre took over a decade to build, with the final cost totalling £156 million (it would cost an astonishing £500 million to build today).

The Barbican Centre was opened by The Queen in 1982, who declared it ‘one of the modern wonders of the world’ with the building seen as a landmark in terms of its scale, cohesion and ambition. As it enters its fourth decade, the centre continues to push boundaries across the arts, offering music, theatre, dance, film, art and design. Its stunning spaces and unique location at the heart of the Barbican Estate have made it an internationally recognised venue, set within an urban landscape acknowledged as one of the most significant architectural achievements of the 20th century.”

In 1984, on the third floor of the Barbican Centre, a conservatory opened.  It is Kew Gardens meets Concrete Mammoth.

There are palm trees, a cage of birds, a corner of cacti, pools with *lots* of koi carp in them, oh, and lots of concrete.  It’s also free, so if you were questioning the entry fee to Kew Gardens, visit here instead.

I had previously visited the conservatory when considering it as a party venue.  I decided against it.  However, it looks like corporate entertainment is its main use: many tables and hot plates were screened off.

However, it is a hidden spot in London, only open on Sundays and bank holidays.  Being close to the Museum of London, it can make for an alternative Sunday afternoon, especially if you like cacti.

When visited: March 2013 (the conservatory is generally only open Sundays & entry is free)


3 thoughts on “The Barbican: a hidden conservatory garden amongst the concrete (Central London)

  1. Those gilded picture frame windows are quite delightful, and give a little bit of interest to the rather brutal modernism. I wonder if it was inspired by the gilded window frames at Chatsworth?

  2. It took a long time to transform London after the war, didn’t it? By the time The Barbican Centre was completed and opened in 1982, an entirely new generation had grown into adulthood. So I suppose we have to ask ….whose view of transformed London architecture was put into practice?

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