The Barbican Library
Brutally Cemented Into The Future
The construction did not begin in earnest until 1971. The architects, Chamberlin, Powell and Bon, were appointed initially to design the residential areas. While they produced an interesting plan, it became apparent that they had never before designed even a cinema, let alone a theatre or concert hall. Their proposals for the cinema included placing the screen on the ceiling and having the first few rows of the audience lying on their backs on what looked like a series of beds.
Henry Wrong CBE, Director of the Barbican from 1970 to 1990

I would destroy the Barbican. It is the biggest heap of ugliness imagin- able - extensive, intrusive, characterless, unfunctional. There are no bricks, but every brick should be metaphorically destroyed. It is a miserably bad complex. The residential part is especially terrible. Because the rooms are so small, the doors have to open outwards. They act as cheese-cutters when you walk past, or suddenly swing open when you are peeing.
Brian Sewell, New Statesman, 18th August 2003.

The Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 requires the 149 first tier English local authorities to provide "comprehensive and efficient" public library services. The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport has a duty under the same Act to superintend the delivery of library services and to promote the improvement of public libraries.
Department for Culture, Media and Sport, 2007.

Whilst some libraries are kings of their own castle, the Barbican Library is built into the Barbican Arts Centre. The Arts Centre forms part of the Barbican estate, a largely residential area located in the City of London. The estate is dominated by four monstrous towers that reach out of London like a dystopian concrete future.

The history of the Barbican estate area can be traced back to the Romans, who built a fortified outpost there to protect a nearby settlement. More recently the area was destroyed by the Luftwaffe during a fleeting visit one night in December 1940.

In the aftermath of the war, the City of London decided to redevelop the area for commercial use. However it later shifted its focus to building a residential neighbourhood and international arts centre.

Construction of the estate commenced in 1962, but the plans were revised. During the revisions the Public Libraries and Museums Act of 1964 came into effect, requiring local authorities to provide public library services. The City of London boasted no public lending libraries of its own, so it decided to create four lending libraries, one of which was to be incorporated into the plans for the Barbican Arts Centre.

It has been said that the Barbican estate had the gestation period of an elephant. Planned in the sixties, building finally got under way in seventies, but it wasn’t until 1982 that the Queen opened it, proclaiming it ‘one of the wonders of the Modern World’. Was she being ironic? The brutalistic style of the Barbican raises eyebrows, and some question whether any improvement has been made on the Hitlerian hole.

Despite its ugliness and labyrinthine ‘city in the sky’ features, walking through the estate to the library is calming thanks to the various gardens and water features, exciting thanks to the various perspectives the walk affords on the post-modern urban landscape which creeps above the Barbican’s modernist horizons, and wondrous one as one encounters the cavernous Arts Centre.

You can’t think about renewing your book, or reading a paper, or going to check your emails without also anticipating these experiences. They are part of the same thing.
Barbican Library Videos Barbican Library Links Other Library Links

Brutally Cemented Into The Future

Hiding From the Bibliotheque Hunters

The Guts of the Library

Are You Contented?

Plugged Into The Matrix

The Corridor of Light

Thank-You For The Music

International Arts Centre v Community Library

Peter Boxer: Library Reading Groupie

Barry Cropper: Head of Library 1981 to 1995

John Lake: Head of Library 1995 to Present Day

White Hairs' Wonderland