Long life to the Barbican, the international arts centre in London

The Barbican Centre is one of the largest international arts centres and event venues in Europe, and a focal point of London’s cultural scene.

Its strong connection with the different local communities makes it the absolute place to be. And you only have to stand in front of its stunning Brutalist building to realise its magnificence.

In truth, there are many reasons to visit this spot, and in this article, we’ll tell you a few.

“Its name comes from an old fort that existed on this site in medieval times.”

Its history

The Barbican Centre was opened in 1982 and was immediately acknowledged worldwide as an architectural icon. Its objective centres around entertaining and inspiring millions of people, creating connections, sparking debate and reflecting on the world in which we live. A good example of this is the fact that it has been stage to great events such as the world premiere of John Adam’s opera “Nixon in China” in 1987 or the performance by London’s Symphony Orchestra at the closing ceremony of the London Olympic Games in 2012.

This unbeatable hotspot is home to a museum, several concert halls, a cinema, the main theatre, and a conservatory with over 1,500 species of plants and trees.

In addition to that, it also has a public library, one of the largest in London, several conference rooms, restaurants, bars, and a picturesque lake, and it’s the permanent base for the London Symphony Orchestra and the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

The Barbican Centre is set within the surrounding residential complex: the Barbican Estate, an area that suffered intense bombing during World War II.

For that reason, it was reconstructed, following the parameters of Brutalist architecture, with concrete and geometrical shapes being the main features.

It consists of a complex building on several levels with numerous points of access. It was designed by architectsChamberlainPowell y Bon, although in the mid-90s, it was Theo Crosby who carried out a cosmetic operation of the centre which consisted of adding sculptures and ornaments, in the style of the Arts & Crafts movement.

It was, however, in 2005, when the complex underwent an even greater refurbishment, and it was the architects from Allford Hall Monaghan Morris who designed a complete reform of the circulation and signage, in line with the original Brutalist style of the building.

They also added an interior bridge that communicates the Silk Street vestibule with that of the Lakeside. In fact, the Silk Street access, that was previously a road for vehicles,  was reformed to give it a pedestrian nature and has become the main entrance to the complex.

“The Barbican Centre in London is one of the best representations of Brutalist architecture in the world.”

During this refurbishment, a great part of the decoration that was added as part of the previous reform was eliminated. And the tower of the theatre was covered with glass, turning it into a conservatory.

The complete refurbishment of this City of London Corporation building received the RIBA International Award – These awards are the architecture’s highest global accolades, celebrating buildings from around the world that demonstrate visionary thinking, design excellence and social impact -.

What to do at the Barbican Centre?

With such a polyhedral nature that is so connected to culture and the arts, the Barbican centre is full of inspiring activities.

They range from enjoying exhibitions, attending classical music/contemporary music concerts or a theatre or dance production, to watching a film at the cinema, grabbing a bite or having a drink, buying a designer item from its lovely shop or diving into the Barbican Conservatory, the second most important botanical gardens in London.

Additionally, on 29th September, they launched a site-specific installation created by Indian sculptor, Ranjani Shettar. Her sculptures are inspired in the complexity of nature, and she has created them using a variety of materials such as wood, stainless steel, muslin, lacquer, and techniques that have been adapted from traditional Indian craftsmanship. It will be available to visit until March 2024.

The truth is that the Barbican Centre is home to a wide range of interesting and inspiring events which is why it is so admired, for its high quality, diverse program.

To enjoy a visit and so that you may organise it according to your interests, we recommend you consult their What’s on agenda.

We’ll say no more, we cannot but encourage you to discover and/or revisit it. This concrete labyrinth is an oasis in the midst of a buzzing London. You only have to step inside to feel like you are somewhere else, a place full of peace, beauty and inspiration…

(*) Photos by Max Colson; vertical photo 1 by Sidd Khajuria; vertical photo 2 by Daniel Hewitt. Provided by Barbican Centre.