Currently running at The Barbican, ‘Designing for a Living City’ is a fascinating exhibition of design materials from the original design and construction of the controversial Barbican Estate. Drawings, fittings, and photographs of the original interiors are on display. We recently completed a full interior redesign and refurbishment of a flat in the Barbican’s Shakespeare Tower, and it was wonderful to see all of this original background to the design and the interiors.
There are beautiful drawings of the estate from the architects Chamberlain, Powell & Bon, including overall plans and elevations of the facade design.
There’s this beautiful and evocative sketch of the Barbican Centre’s main auditorium too.
It’s in the details where the most fascinating items are on display though, including finishes proposals and trials. For the exterior, concrete slabs were cast for testing different tooling techniques. Casts of these slabs are included in the exhibition, and they show the care that was taken to develop and choose the distinctive finish that’s used for much of the estate.
For the interior layout of the flats, the proposal to locate the kitchen and bathrooms internally was originally rejected by the London County Council. The architects successfully persuaded the Barbican Committee by building full mock-ups of these rooms in their office, and hosted them there for a meal prepared by a professional chef!
Original interior fittings are also on display, such as this custom-designed basin for the separate toilet. No handrinse basin on the market at the time would fit into the design of the four feet square interior, so a custom-made piece had to be designed.
And for another demonstration of attention to detail in the design of the interiors, the full ironmongery selection and specification for the flats is here, including the schedules.
Original sales materials and brochures are shown for many phases of the project, with artists’ impressions of the completed buildings and floor plans showing the different interior layouts available.
I’m sure that the Barbican has become so popular not just due to its great location in the City of London, but also due to its unique architectural style – a style which lends itself so well to contemporary interior design trends. You might think that in embracing property like this for modern living that we’re somehow regressing to a mid-century style that was so prevalent at the time. A selection of photos of the show flats shows that this really isn’t the case, and although many furniture designs from that era have stood the test of time and become possibly even more popular today, we have certainly moved on in terms of tastes and styles.
The exhibition is a fascinating glimpse into the origin of the Barbican Estate’s design, and I’m sure especially interesting for Barbican residents. The exhibition runs until 16th October in the ground floor foyer of the Barbican Centre.