London – The Architecture – Part 1.

The Barbican Centre, London.

A modern Utopian city?

The Barbican scheme was a project of staggering scale and complexity. It took nearly three decades to design and build; involved the design of over 2,000 flats, two schools and an arts centre.

It is built in the style of what is now known as the Brutalist style of architecture.

The distinctive and labour intensive tooling to the bare concrete.

Brutalist architecture, is a style that emerged in the 1950s and grew out of the early-20th century modernist movement. Brutalist buildings are characterised by their massive, monolithic and ‘blocky’ appearance with a rigid geometric style and large-scale use of poured concrete

The raised walkways were part of what, at the time, was considered to be a way of city dwellers moving around the city without going down to street level. Most pedestrians however preferred to walk through the cafes and shops at ground level.

The Barbican scheme was designed by the practice of Chamnerlin, Powell & Bon, who are now considered one of the most important modernist architectural firms in post-war England.

The architects initially suggested a ‘small exhibition hall’ in their first proposal but by 1959 this had grown into a major arts centre including a theatre, a concert hall, an art gallery, a library and a restaurant.

The Barbican’s distinctive tooled-concrete finish is the result of an extremely labour-intensive technique. After the concrete had dried, workers used pick-hammers or wider bush-hammers to tool the surface and expose the coarse granite aggregate. Pick-hammering involved pitting the surface to an average depth of 1.25 cm and bush-hammering to no more than 0.6 cm deep.

At the time of their completion, the Barbican towers were the tallest residential towers in Europe.

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