The Barbican has managed to become an iconic landmark of the London skyline but also one which is thoroughly criticised. During its conception in the 1960s, brutalist styles were taking the architectural world by storm; it does however take inspiration from its history, as the site is positioned on the old city wall with medieval motifs prevalent.
The estate is a masterclass in design as flats are engineered to be progressed through as a family grows. The enclosed gardens present feelings of exclusivity and the compound’s impenetrable exterior makes residents feel safe. Although many have significant reservations on its style, it is an undeniable fact that careful thought was placed into every element of the buildings.
These flats can now fetch up to £4 million at their most expensive. Before they were sold off to tenants during the right to buy policies of the 1980s — arguably the leading cause of our current housing climate — they were all owned by the local authority. This provided over 2000 homes for young professionals and families, and many other amenities as well. These included a performing arts centre, a school, museum and many other public spaces. The complete package that the Barbican provided with both housing and recreation is something that is lacking with other developments of social housing. At its best social housing creates communities, identity and purpose. But at its worst it can create alienation, unhappiness and a sense of bleakness.
The current raft of unaffordable prices on the market has forced young working professionals into renting apartments, which cease to allow for money to be saved for buying a home. As truly affordable homes stagnate, councils must once again step in to solve this new issue. Building new independent developments I believe is the answer.
In these new projects there will need to be shops, creative spaces and areas for activity which will facilitate cohesive communities, buzzing with vibrancy. Green spaces must be present to allow children to play, as these blocks need diversity to create unity and a community spirit. Arts centres, similar to the Barbican Centre, can bring in additional revenue for the council to be used on constantly improving the area. The added benefit of this is encouraging creative communities to the area along with new businesses and cultural opportunities.
The central problem which must be avoided with schemes like this though, are the social divisions which can be created. It is not right or healthy for council estates to become exclusive for the poor and working class. Social tensions are created and people suffer. Of course we must first set the priority on helping those most at risk in our society by housing them in these developments. But we must also make these developments attractive to the middle class by positioning them in desirable locations and near to work and recreational activities. Creating blocks for all will help heal wounds created between socio-economic backgrounds which have been wide open for decades.
Additionally, we must also adapt the architecture to be more future proof. Although the Barbican was immensely fashionable in some groups’ eyes, it has not been held in popular view as of recent decades. Buildings should be designed to be timeless and therefore it must be requisite for them to be made in such a way which will still be pleasant to the eye in many years to come. It has also been suggested that these uninspired designs actually create emotions of sadness, loneliness and even depression. Architects must be more inspired compared to their counterparts from the ’60s.
Both companies and Government must focus further on purpose over profit if they wish to create a cohesive and fair society. It is wrong that the most vulnerable in society should be grouped together and placed in, mostly, soulless blocks giving them little prospect for a brighter future. Although the cost may be initially high for already suffering local councils, projects such as these must be carried out if we are to create a country that the average person actually wishes to live in.